Boeing's Starliner Makes It Home

'On a scale of one to 10, I think I’d give it a 15'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 20, 2022 3:08 AM CDT
Boeing Launches Starliner Capsule on Test Do-Over
Boeing and NASA teams work around Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft after it landed at White Sands Missile Range's Space Harbor, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in New Mexico.   (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

(Newser) Update: Boeing moved a giant step closer to being able to send astronauts to space on Wednesday with the successful return of its Starliner spacecraft—which had a spacesuit-clad mannequin aboard. After spending five days at the International Space Station, the spacecraft detached from its port and touched down in the White Sands desert of New Mexico. CNN reports there were a few hiccups over the course of the trip, including with some of the on-board thrusters. Backup thrusters took over, and a Boeing VP sounded thrilled overall, telling the AP, "On a scale of one to 10, I think I’d give it a 15." The AP anticipates NASA astronauts could finally head to the ISS via the Starliner before the year is out. Our original story from Friday follows:

Boeing’s crew capsule rocketed into orbit Thursday on a repeat test flight without astronauts, after years of being grounded by flaws that could have doomed the spacecraft. Only a test dummy was aboard. If the capsule reaches the International Space Station on Friday and everything else goes well, two or three NASA test pilots could strap in by the end of this year or early next for the company’s first crew flight, the AP reports. It’s Boeing’s third shot at the high-stakes flight demo. This time, Starliner made it to the proper orbit, quickly giving chase to the space station despite the failure of a pair of thrusters. But the all-important rendezvous and docking loomed.

"That's another big day for us," say Mark Nappi, vice president and manager of Boeing's commercial crew program. "So there might be a couple of sleepless nights ahead of us still to get through the rest of the mission, but today feels really good." Starliner’s first test flight in 2019 was stricken by software errors so severe that the capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and had to skip the space station. The spacecraft came close to being destroyed as ground controllers hastily cut short the mission. After dozens of safety fixes, Boeing returned a different capsule to the launch pad last summer. Corroded valves halted the countdown, resulting in another round of repairs.

The drawn-out test flight program has cost Boeing approximately $600 million. Boeing is seeking redemption as it attempts to catch up with SpaceX, NASA’s other contracted taxi service. Elon Musk’s company has been flying astronauts to and from the space station for two years and delivering cargo for a full decade. "We always, in this case, want to have a backup," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told the AP hours before liftoff. Different in looks but similar in function to SpaceX's Dragon capsule, Boeing’s fully automated capsule will attempt to dock at the space station on its own. Station astronauts will be ready to steer the capsule by remote control, if necessary.

(Read more Boeing stories.)

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