Boeing’s ST-100 Starliner was supposed to make it to the International Space Station as the company’s first test launch prepping for human space travel. Instead it became the first U.S. space capsule made for human use to land on continental U.S. soil instead of an ocean.
Early Sunday morning the craft landed at the Army’s White Sands missile range in New Mexico (which was just designated a national park) after an “abbreviated” trip, NASA reported.
While the Friday post-launch journey went awry and burned too much fuel too quickly to make it to the ISS because of a timing error, the craft was able to settle into a lower orbit for two days for other commercial space program testing. Rosie, a dummy human, was in the commander seat for the mission and hooked up to sensors to collect data for future human crews onboard.
Sunday’s historic landing involved parachutes and airbags, as seen below.
Even SpaceX CEO Elon Musk commiserated on the difficulties of space travel after timing issues sent the craft into the wrong orbit.
Orbit is hard. Best wishes for landing & swift recovery to next mission.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2019
Now that the Starliner is back on Earth, the craft is heading back to Florida for data retrieval and analysis. NASA astronauts Sunita “Suni” Williams and Josh Cassada are set to fly on Starliner as one of the first crewed commercial space craft to the ISS. SpaceX was also selected to fly NASA astronauts to the station on its Crew Dragon.
But don’t plan for a quick turnaround trip for the Starliner. Take-off with humans aboard is still uncertain and Friday’s botched mission didn’t help.