Astronaut capsule returns from ISS and lands in New Mexico, capping a high-stakes test flight as NASA's next vehicle for carrying humans to orbit.
Boeing's crew has returned to Earth from the International Space Station, completing a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climb aboard.
It was a quick trip back on Wednesday. The Starliner capsule parachuted into the New Mexico desert just four hours after leaving the orbiting lab, with airbags attached to cushion the landing. Only a mannequin was on board.
Aside from thruster failures and cooling system snags, Starliner appeared to clinch its high-stakes shakedown cruise, two and a half years after its botched first try.
NASA astronauts will strap in next for a trip to the space station. The space agency has long wanted two competing US companies ferrying astronauts, for added insurance as it drastically reduced its reliance on Russia for rides to and from the space station.
The @BoeingSpace #Starliner completed Orbital Flight Test-2, touching down at White Sands Space Harbor.— NASA (@NASA) May 26, 2022
This flight demonstrated launch, docking to @Space_Station, reentry, and landing — data to help prove that the capsule can safely carry astronauts. https://t.co/URKJoePcSr pic.twitter.com/4hOHBROalb
Starliner's flaws and success
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already the established leader, launching astronauts since 2020 and even tourists.
Its crew capsules splash down off the Florida coast, and Boeing's Starliner returns to the Army's expansive and desolate White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
Boeing scrapped its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019 after software errors left the capsule in the wrong orbit and nearly doomed it.
The company fixed the flaws and tried again last summer, but corroded valves halted the countdown.
Following more repairs, Starliner finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked to the space station on Friday.
READ MORE: Boeing to test fly uncrewed capsule to ISS
Groceries delivered to astronauts
Station astronauts tested Starliner’s communication and computer systems during its five days at the space station. They also unloaded hundreds of kilogrammes of groceries and other supplies that flew up in the Boeing capsule, then filled it with empty air tanks and other discarded gear.
A folded US flag sent up by Boeing stayed behind, to be retrieved by the first Starliner crew.
"We’re a little sad to see her go," station astronaut Bob Hines radioed as the capsule flew away.
Along for the ride was Starliner's test dummy — Rosie the Rocketeer, a takeoff on World War II's Rosie the Riveter.
The repairs and do-over cost Boeing nearly $600 million.