FARMINGTON – In grainy, low-resolution footage, a white dot grows larger as it slowly floats to Earth with the support of three large parachutes before coming to rest on sandy desert.
The landing of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft – the white dot – at White Sands Missile Range on Sunday morning marked the first completed touchdown of the human-ready space capsule, according to National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s announcement.
The Starliner touched down at 5:58 a.m., and was part of Boeing’s uncrewed orbital flight test with NASA’s commercial crew program. In a statement, NASA said Starliner’s safe landing set the stage for future crewed landings at the same site.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a Sunday message on Twitter the Starliner landing at White Sands was “a huge milestone for U.S. space travel that New Mexico is proud to have played a part in.”
Although the landing was a success, Starliner’s mission was to dock at the International Space Station. However, the spacecraft, which launched Dec. 20 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, missed its orbit and returned to Earth without docking, NASA said.
“This is why we conduct these tests, to learn and improve our systems,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “The information gained from this first mission of Starliner will be critical in our efforts to strengthen NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and return America’s human spaceflight capability.”
Although the Starliner spacecraft was uncrewed, NASA designed the craft for human travel and will refurbish it for Boeing’s first operational crewed mission. Astronaut Suni Williams, scheduled to command the mission, named the spacecraft Calypso, for explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s research ship.
“I love what the ocean means to this planet,” Williams said in a statement from NASA. “We would not be this planet without the ocean. There’s so much to discover in the ocean, and there’s so much to discover in space.”