Boeing’s Starliner has returned safely to Earth after docking for the first time at the International Space Station. The six-day Boeing Orbital Flight Test-2 mission came to an end when the spacecraft landed on the US Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. It is the first US capsule to land on land rather than in the ocean. Starliner disengaged from the ISS at 2:36 p.m. ET and fired its thrusters at 6:05 p.m. to fall out of orbit.
The unmanned Starliner, which brought more than 800 pounds of equipment to the ISS (including a Kerbal Space Program plush), returned more than 600 pounds of cargo. Items returned included reusable Nitrogen Oxygen Recharge System tanks, which are used to supply air to those on the ISS. They are refilled and later returned to the space station.
The spacecraft’s first test flight took place in 2019. While it reached orbit, a problem with the automation system prevented the thrusters from firing, meaning Starliner was unable to dock with the ISS. An attempted second test flight last year was canceled due to a problem with the propulsion system valve, leading to a nine-month delay. In the meantime, SpaceX has been making more manned trips to the ISS than previously planned.
After reviewing the data from this flight, Boeing can begin planning manned flights that take astronauts to the space station and return to Earth. The New York Times says NASA will announce the astronauts that will fly on Starliner this summer, and the mission could take place before the end of the year.
Mark Nappi, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Crew Program, said:
“We have had an excellent flight test of a complex system that we expected to learn along the way and we have done so. With the completion of OFT-2 we will incorporate lessons learned and continue to work to prepare for the manned flight test and NASA certification Thanks to the NASA and Boeing teammates who put so much of themselves into Starliner.”
Mariella Moon contributed to this story.
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