Boeing Starliner Capsule Lands In New Mexico After Its First Successful Test Launch In Years


An uncrewed Boeing Starliner capsule touched down in the New Mexico desert Wednesday after a trip to the International Space Station, wrapping up its first fully successful test launch, a milestone that will prepare the Starliner to eventually carry NASA astronauts—and reverse the program’s fortunes after years of delays and technical challenges.

Key Facts

Aided by several parachutes and airbags, the Starliner landed at an Army missile range in New Mexico at 6:49 p.m. Eastern, roughly four hours after it undocked from the International Space Station and positioned itself for reentry.

The mission began Thursday evening, when the Starliner took off from Florida, detached from its rocket, successfully entered orbit and docked at the ISS a day later—in contrast with an unsuccessful late 2019 test launch during which the Starliner’s thrusters failed to put the capsule onto the right orbit due to a malfunctioning clock.

The Starliner is returning to Earth with about 600 pounds of cargo loaded onto the capsule by ISS astronauts following its multi-day stay at the space station.

What To Watch For

The Starliner’s first crewed test flight may come later this year, Boeing and NASA officials said last week, after which it could start flying standard crewed missions.

Key Background

Almost eight years ago, NASA struck multibillion-dollar contracts with Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts to the International Space Station on private U.S.-made spacecraft, as the agency sought to stop paying Russia to carry its astronauts to space—an expensive practice that began after NASA retired its space shuttles in 2011. Despite facing some testing issues, the SpaceX Crew Dragon flew its first crewed mission to the ISS in May 2020, and has traveled to the space station with crew several times since then. However, Boeing’s competing Starliner program has faced technical hurdles: The capsule didn’t make it to the ISS during its 2019 test launch after its failure to enter the proper orbit, and a second test scheduled for last August was called off due to a valve issue. The problems have led to years of delays, extra costs and additional stress for Boeing, a legendary company whose reputation was undermined by a pair of fatal 737 MAX commercial airplane crashes in 2018 and 2019.

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