DECATUR, Ala. - United Launch Alliance in Decatur says they are on track to send astronauts to space from American soil in 2021.
On Thursday, ULA made an important move on the company's journey to get the Atlas V rocket up in space.
After a year and a half of hard work, what started out as raw, flat aluminum has transformed into an Atlas V that's heading to the Florida coast.
"Today is really a historical day for us," said ULA production engineer Shannon Coggin. "We're really super excited to hit this milestone for ULA and really for the entire nation."
The Atlas booster and dual-engine Centaur second stage will support ULA's commercial crew mission flying with the Starline capsule. The Atlas V has successfully completed 79 missions. But aerospace experts like Boeing Director of Launch Operations Rick Navarro say the new technology they are adding is nothing like they have ever used before.
"We put a lot of capabilities into these designs that were not there before," Navarro said.
Aerospace experts say these modifications take time.
"What we were never, ever going to do was compromise or rush the design and not look at the details of what the hardware was telling us as we were building and testing it," Navarro said.
This moment is another reminder of the role North Alabama plays in space exploration.
"You cannot write the history of human exploration, the past chapters or the upcoming chapters without talking about this place," Navarro said.
The crew flight test of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner is targeted for later this year.
The booster and upper stage will now begin its journey on the cargo ship Mariner to the ULA facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla., for processing for the historic flight.