Boeing’s uncrewed Starliner spacecraft made what appears to be a successful landing at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico earlier today at 7:58 am, making history as the first crew-capable space capsule ever to make a land-based touchdown on U.S. soil.
Starliner originally launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on Friday from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Despite a perfect launch, the Starliner encountered a technical issue after reaching space and failed a planned orbit and dock to the International Space Station (ISS). Despite the core mission of docking to the ISS failing, Boeing was still able to complete a number of test objectives.
About 90 minutes after blastoff on Friday , NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter that the capsule could not be able to reach the space station because it burned too much fuel during an anomaly believed to be tied to an on-board clock. However, the administrator emphasized that NASA still considered the flight valuable and a positive step toward sending astronauts to space on commercial vehicles. “Today, a lot of things went right, and this is in fact why we test,” Bridenstine said. “If we would have had crew in there, number one, they would have been safe.”
Despite the anomaly and aborted attempt to reach the ISS, teams from NASA, Boeing and ULA worked quickly to ensure the spacecraft was in a stable orbit and preserved enough fuel for multiple landing opportunities. Ultimately, Starliner orbited the Earth 33 times at an altitude of about 155 miles, performing as tests which will aid for future crewed flights.
Both Boeing and SpaceX have been testing new vehicles that’ll bring humans to the ISS and beyond. After the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the only way to send people to the International Space Station is by way of costly Russian rockets for now. SpaceX successfully completed their unmanned docking to the ISS in March, paving the way for crewed missions that should begin next year. Boeing and SpaceX are competing for future crewed missions business from NASA to bring astronauts to ISS and beyond in the coming years.