CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - Boeing's shiny new Starliner crew capsule makes its debut this week with a launch to the International Space Station, the company's last hurdle before flying astronauts for NASA next year.
Testing the cosmic waters will be Rosie the mannequin, decked out in Boeing's custom blue spacesuit and a red polka dot bandanna modeled after the World War II riveter.
If the orbital demo goes well, the first Starliner crew could be rocketing to the space station by summer.
SpaceX also is looking to start launching astronauts for NASA, perhaps by spring. It completed a similar test flight of its crew capsule back in March.
The space agency hired the private companies to build and fly the capsules while it focused on a new generation of moonshots and other distant travel. Regardless of which company flies astronauts first, NASA's commercial crew program finally seems to be closing in on the finish line, after years of technical difficulties and delays.
"2020 is the year," program manager Kathy Lueders said this week. "This is really the final trial of these vehicles."