Boeing’s crew taxi has returned to Earth from the International Space Station and has completed a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climb aboard.
The Starliner capsule was parachuted into the New Mexico desert on Wednesday — with airbags attached to dampen the landing — four hours after leaving the orbiting lab.
Only a mannequin was attached.
Aside from bow thruster failures and cooling system problems, Starliner appeared to be completing its high-stakes shakedown cruise two and a half years after its failed first attempt.
The @BoeingSpace #Starliner completed Orbital Flight Test-2 and landed at White Sands Space Harbor.
This flight demonstrated launch, docking to @Space_Station, reentry, and landing – data to prove the capsule can safely carry astronauts. https://t.co/URKJoePcSr pic.twitter.com/4hOHBROalb
— NASA (@NASA) May 26, 2022
Flight controllers in Houston applauded and cheered for the bull’s-eye landing.
“It’s great to have this incredible test flight behind us,” said Steve Stich, director of NASA’s commercial crew program.
He described the demonstration as “extremely successful,” achieving all objectives.
A Boeing vice president, Mark Nappi added, “On a scale of one to ten, I think I’d give it a 15.”
Based on these early results, NASA astronauts will join for a trip to the space station, perhaps by the end of the year.
The space agency has long wanted two competing US companies to transport astronauts for extra insurance as it drastically cuts its reliance on Russia for rides to and from the space station.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already the established leader, launching astronauts and tourists since 2020.
The crew’s capsules splash off the coast of Florida as the Boeing Starliner returns to the Army’s vast and deserted White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Boeing canceled its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019 after software errors left the capsule in the wrong orbit and nearly doomed it to fail.
The company repaired the flaws and tried again last summer, but corroded valves stopped the countdown.
After more repairs, Starliner finally took off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked at the space station on Friday.
Station astronauts tested Starliner’s communications and computer systems during their five days on the space station.
They also loaded hundreds of pounds of groceries and other supplies that flew into the Boeing capsule, then filled it with empty air tanks and other discarded materials.
A folded American flag sent by Boeing was left behind and will be collected by the first Starliner crew.
“We’re a little sad to see her go,” station astronaut Bob Hines radioed as the capsule flew off.
Next to the ride was Starliner’s test dummy – Rosie the Rocketeer, a tribute to World War II Rosie the Riveter.
The repairs and repairs cost Boeing nearly $600 million ($850 million).