Boeing plane returns from space station after test flight without crew

The Boeing crew returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Wednesday, completing a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climbed aboard.

It was a quick return: the Starliner capsule parachuted into the New Mexico desert just four hours after leaving the orbiting lab, with airbags attached to cushion the landing. Only one dummy was strapped with a seat belt.

Aside from thruster failures and cooling system malfunctions, the Starliner seems to have won in its high-stakes problem-solving journey, two and a half years after its first test. Flight controllers in Houston clapped and cheered for the encounter.

“It’s great to have this incredible test flight behind us,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. He described the demo as “extremely successful”, with all the goals achieved.

Boeing’s Mark Nappi added: “On a scale of one to 10, I think I’d give it a 15.”

Based on these initial results, NASA astronauts will go on to make a trip to the space station. The space agency has long wanted two competing US companies to shuttle astronauts, providing them with additional insurance as they significantly reduce reliance on Russia for trips to and from the station. The universe.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been the established leader, launching astronauts since 2020 and even tourists. Its sailor bullet fell off the Florida coast; Boeing’s Starliner returns to the US Army’s Extended White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

This image from NASA TV shows the Boeing Starliner approaching the International Space Station last Friday. (NASA / The Associated Press)

Boeing aborted its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019, after a software bug sent the spacecraft off-course and nearly dead. The company fixed the bugs and tried again last summer, but corroded valves halted the countdown. After more repairs, the Starliner finally took off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked at the space station on Friday.

The station’s astronauts tested the Starliner’s communications and computer systems for five days at the space station. They also unload hundreds of kilograms of groceries and other supplies that fly up in the Boeing cabin, then fill them with empty gas cylinders and other discarded equipment.

A folded US flag sent by Boeing stayed behind, and was retrieved by the first Starliner crew.

“We were a bit sad to see her go,” said radio astronaut Bob Hines as the craft took off.

Along with the ride was the test dummy of the Starliner – Rosie the Rocketeer, a Rosie the Riveter ship from the Second World War.

Repairs and replacements cost Boeing nearly $600 million.

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