The first human crewed flight of Boeing`s Starliner spacecraft carrying Indian-orgin Sunita Williams was cancelled minutes before it could take off from the Kennedy Space Centre.

According to US space agency NASA, the delay which happened at 3 minutes and 50 seconds before liftoff was called by an automated computer system, which takes over the flight sequence in the final minutes of the countdown.

“Teams have scrubbed today`s launch attempt for BoeingSpace`s Starliner Crew Flight Test due to an automatic hold of the ground launch sequencer,” NASA said in its broadcast on Saturday.

The ground launch sequencer is the computer that tells the rocket to launch.

The agency has scheduled a backup launch attempt for Sunday.

If the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which operates the Atlas V rocket, decides the issue that plagued Saturday`s attempt has been resolved, the launch would take place at 12:03 pm ET ( 9.33 pm Indian Standard Time). NASA has also additional launch opportunities scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

Addressing a press conference in Cape Canaveral, Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager for the Commercial Crew Program at Boeing said,

“When Starliner shifted from ground power to internal power, there was a slight increase in voltage that turned off the cabin fans, which keep the astronauts cool as they sit in their spacesuits in the capsule. They were able to get them turned on again quickly,” Nappi said as per CNN.

The Boeing official said that “Tomorrow or whenever we try our next our next launch attempt, we`ll have that figured out,” adding “This is the business that we`re in. Everything`s got to work perfectly.”

Although Starliner didn`t launch as planned, “we got really close today,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA`s Commercial Crew Program, addressing the press conference.

Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, which built the Atlas 5 rocket Starliner sits atop said,”If the issue can be fixed tonight, Starliner could launch Sunday at 12:03 p.m. ET. If not, the next launch attempts are June 5 and June 6.”

The innagural test flight of the Starliner will send NASA astronauts Sunita `Suni` Willams and Barry `Butch` Wilmore to the International Space Station, where they will be stationed for about a week to test out how the spacecraft operates with humans on board. The ISS presently has seven astronauts and cosmonauts already on board..

The mission, dubbed the Crew Flight Test, will be a stepping stone to get NASA clearance deeming Boeing`s spacecraft ready for regular operations.

The launch is part of NASA`s “commercial crew programme”, which selected Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station after NASA retired its Space Shuttle Program in the year 2011. Boeing received over USD 4 billion in US federal funds to develop the Starliner, while SpaceX received about USD 2.6 billion.

While the Elon Musk-owned SpaceX company`s Crew Dragon has performed 12 crewed missions to the ISS since its first launch on May 30, 2020, Boeing`s Starliner has been faced with multiple setbacks.

Its first flight mission in December 2019, the Starliner with no crew on board was launched into space but ran into problems. Similarly its second attempt in 2021 also without crew also failed before completing a successful uncrewed test flight in May 2022.

Starliner was only about two hours from its first crewed launch attempt on May 6 when engineers identified an issue with a valve on the second stage, or upper portion, of the Atlas V rocket. The entire stack, including the rocket and spacecraft, was rolled back from the launchpad for testing and repairs, CNN reported.

Then, mission teams reported a small helium leak within the spacecraft service module. The space agency determined the leak did not pose a risk to the flight.

CNN explained that While evaluating the helium issue over the past two weeks, engineers also spotted a “design vulnerability” in the propulsion system -essentially identifying a remote scenario in which certain thrusters might fail as the vehicle leaves Earth`s orbit, without a backup method of getting home safely.

Williams who has traveled to space twice before, once on a NASA space shuttle in 2006 and then on a Russian Soyuz capsule in 2012 in an earlier . She`s logged 322 total days in space.

Meanwhile, NASA said that astronauts Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore exited their spacecraft and were transported back to their quarters at the Kennedy Space Centre`s Neil A Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, remaining in quarantine as they await Starliner`s next launch attempt.

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