Starliner Completes Test Mission With Soft Landing


Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule parachuted safely to Earth at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Wednesday afternoon, capping a mostly successful uncrewed test trip to the International Space Station. The capsule was back on the ground less than four hours after it detached from the ISS and carried garbage from the station and a mannequin named Rosie the Rocketeer.

Although the capsule completed the mission, there were some glitches, including a stuck docking mechanism that took two tries to work when it arrived. There were also some problems with thrusters and the cooling system but Boeing engineers were able to work through the snags. The reentry and landing on Wednesday were uneventful. The uncrewed trip was a do-over after a 2019 attempt went to the wrong orbit because of a software glitch. Last year, a launch was aborted due to the failure of several valves. The next trip will have astronauts aboard.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Taxpayers are paying to haul garbage and a dummy? That’s a joke, right? No wonder we have a $30T national debt and Boeing moved its HQ to the Swamp. Can anyone name one single benefit to manned space travel since the moon landing? Just one? The lost opportunity costs are staggering.

    • And yet federal funding of space exploration (manned or otherwise) is peanuts (<1%) of the federal budget. Even if the entire space program was shut down, it wouldn't make a dent in the deficit.

      And yes, the flight was a resupply and trash-removal flight. Where did you think the trash went?

      In any case, it's a simple Google search to find what scientific discoveries that the manned space flight program has found. Not all experimentation can be done by robots.

      • I am not decided on the NASA budget, but your argument is a common one which gets me angry every time.

        The percentage of the budget doesn’t make something less a waste of money. The government and its budget is huge, for one thing. If we had spent one percent less every year for the last fifty years what an amazingly better situation we would be in.
        Also, if the money is being poorly spent, whatever poor decisions are involved? Is it supporting corruption? Are citizens being harassed? Are private solutions being thwarted?
        How much of our budget was used to destroy the market in baby formula which has created the current crisis?
        Please, we could all use a little more attention on good governance to replace some of our ideological contests.
        Maybe everything that’s less than one percent of the budget ought to need individual approval by Congress. Could get those clowns back to work.

        • I’m just saying, let’s go after where the big wastes actually are and not worry about nickle and diming NASA. It doesn’t make sense to scrutinize an insignificant portion of the budget when there are much larger-ticket portions that have a lot more room for efficiencies.

          • Perhaps I’d be more open to that rational if any progress were made on any of it. Certainly, NASA and other organizations could attract less scrutiny and ire if they spent more time on their actual missions and wasted less on social distractions.

            In the meantime, I’ll not easily dismiss any suggestions to spend less, even where I think we ought to spend more.

        • If we want to talk about waste of tax payer money with no return, let’s talk about war. Kent claims we have a 30T debt (more like 23) and he wants to pick at NASA and you think that if we just drop this 1% cost we will some how make back all that 30/23 T.

          The US fought a conflict in Southeast Asia for multiple years and billions of dollars. What was the return on that effort. We pulled out in 73 and North Vietnam took over anyway. We got nothing but dead soldiers from that effort.

          The US starts a war with Iraq in 2003 on what was later confirmed as lies about WMDs. That conflict lasted 8 years, cost the US over 1 trillion and what was our return? Iraq is still a screwed up country and we have more dead soldiers.

          The US starts a conflict in Afghanistan in 2001. It lasts 20 years. It cost the US over 3 trillion dollars an what was our return? The Taliban now controls the country, just as it did before 2001. Oh, more dead soldiers.

          Our defense spending costs the American tax payer way more than anything NASA can spend and when someone says, what do we get out it? Look around!

          Computer technology, materials, improved medical treatments, a better awareness of our own planet, weather forecasting…If we had spent the same amount of money on space exploration and yes, exploitation that we did with just the three failed conflicts, mankind could have been on Mars or the moon.

          I hate that Boeing raked in tax payer dough (before NASA stopped doing cost plus) for next to nothing, but at the least, they provided jobs, some science and some new engineering; they did not create dead soldiers. NASA gave SpaceX @ 500M to help start Falcon and today, we are not dependent on Russia to get to orbit and cost to orbit was cut more than 60%.

          I’ll take NASA spending any day over the grift, waste, and negative return we get from any dollar spent on Defense.

    • No; taxpayers paid for the failed mission. The do-over – with the actual garbage collection – was on Boeing’s dime.

  2. The larger picture here is that now our government is acknowledging the factual existence of UFO’s and has now brought it into the light for a reason. The black budget programs have been working on and with recovered and acquired alien technology for over 70 years. They have perfected the reverse engineering and have now built and flown alien replicas. The Phoenix lights are the biggest example of this as the largest mass sighting ever. If you really want to talk about costs, look a the black programs where there is absolutely NO congressional oversight. That dollar figure is staggering, yet its there, the money goes, and we never see the use.

    • Ron, I don’t dispute any of your statements about the black budget programs and the research that is going on with UAP’s and the like, but as a twice bitten observer to the Phoenix Lights, I have a very different take on their origin.
      My view and that of thousands of others is captured in the excellent book by Dr. Lynne Kitei, and it concerns not extra-terrestrial sourcing but a dimension of another kind.

      But yeah, with the public awareness of UAP’s crossing with higher levels of research and acceptance, things are looking up!

  3. If I was one of the astronauts going on the next trip, I would make sure I packed an extra big lunch box.
    Just in case those thrust motors fire at the wrong time and the thing heads for outer space.
    That way I will at least get a bit of space travel under my belt before deciding it is time to open the window.

  4. Flying real humans on the next flight after at least two problems on this flight?

    I hope the fan of public nattering will stay shiny, but I fear it will turn brown from tragedy from Boeing/SpaceX/Bezos flights.

    Remember Apollo 13?
    (Deficiency in design or fabrication/maintenance caused an explosion.
    Crew and ground persons improvised a way to return to earth using the lunar landing module, abandoning the service module they would normally use to get back. Lucky.)

    • Since you ” fear it will turn brown from tragedy from Boeing/SpaceX/Bezos flights”, what are you suggesting? We not continue to pursue space flight? A lot has happened since Apollo 13. After a 46 year occupation in the manned space program, i saw many many failures. However as space flight has progressed, the adnominally/failures have decreased exponentially. why? Because we learn from failures and progress will always have failures regardless of the field.

      Yes, we will have catastrophic failures in space flight, just like we do in commercial air travel which has been around for over 100 years.

      Not sure why you choose Space flight, perhaps because it is the State of the Art in transportation, which naturally has higher risk of failure. So, when the next “tragedy” occurs, you can say “I told you so”,

  5. I would like to see a cost comparison between the NASA/Boeing project and SpaceX. It is clear that SpaceX knows what they are doing and are way ahead of the game here. And please do not blow smoke about Boeing’s program not costing tax payers many millions of dollars. They are not paying for it themselves like SpaceX has.

    • You overlook that it took SpaceX many failures before succeeding.

      Elon ‘The Mouth 2’ Musk does have a policy of not fiddling around with partway attempts – if there is a problem ‘Fix It!’.

      • It is true that SpaceX experienced numerous failures in its Falcon 9 vehicle prior to it becoming successful as a passenger carrying rocket. However, that is mainly due to the SpaceX philosophy of how they “debug” their designs. On the other hand, their Dragon capsule, which carries the astronauts, was extremely thoroughly tested prior to carrying its first live passengers. There were several trips to the ISS carrying only replacement supplies and, yes, bringing back trash before any human was on board. Don’t confuse that with Boeing’s issues with their passenger capsule. Boeing uses the very reliable, if somewhat dated, Atlas rocket as the launch vehicle. The Atlas is a converted ICBM missile originally built in the early 1960s but modified for satellite and passenger launches. It is the same basic rocket used to launch John Glenn and the other Mercury astronauts into orbit in the mid-’60s. Boeing’s problem is that they can’t seem to figure out how to build a passenger capsule that actually works. Judging from the issues experienced on this flight, they still have a few bugs to work out. Oh, and by the way, EVERY vehicle that has visited the ISS, from the Space Shuttle to Soyuz capsules carries up supplies and brings home trash. After all, the ISS can’t exactly just jettison their trash overboard and let it drift around in orbit.

        • I say both company’s problems had the same root cause.

          You might have noted the failure rate of early USAF rockets.

          And the space shuttle tragedies from get-home-itis operation and design defects such as backward joint design by the booster rocket manufacturers. Remember Musk rushed at least one launch.

          As for fly and crash, repeat, repeat.. method development, the fundamental question is whether lessons learned are recorded so they are not repeated in future iterations. Perhaps Musk put a new team on the crewed device, or at least fundamentally re-oriented staff.

        • ‘Issues’ is mealy-mouthed language – the proper word is ‘problem’.

          As for the Shuttle booster rocket, design flaw was akin to Boeing’s MCAS fiasco – no one really thought it through. Joint design was backward – pressure tended to reduce force on o-rings, computer analysis had reversed sign so cleared it.