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Starliner Returns Early but Smoothly

Spacecraft got its trajectory wrong just after takeoff
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2019 9:23 AM CST

(Newser) – "Congratulations, Starliner," Mission Control said as the unmanned Boeing spacecraft landed safely before dawn Sunday in New Mexico. The desert landing at White Sands Missile Range was successful, but the mission was not. Gifts, including clothes and food, meant for the crew of the International Space Station came back to Earth, undelivered, with the ship. The test flight was cut short because, just after takeoff Friday, thrusters didn't fire as planned to put Starliner on a path to the space station, the AP reports. A clock had failed to sync the Starliner and the Atlas V rocket. Boeing is investigating how that happened. The clock was reset during the mission, but too much fuel had been used up trying to correct the trajectory to reach the space station.

There were smaller victories in the mission, which was designed to be the last test before flying NASA astronauts next year; the only passenger this time was a dummy nicknamed Rosie the Rocketeer. The crew capsule's safe return—right on target, employing airbags and parachutes—will allow NASA to recover useful data about landings, per CNN. In its nearly 50-hour trip, Starliner circled Earth 33 times. Recovery teams cheered at touchdown, and Boeing was pleased to get Starliner back in one piece. (Read more space travel stories.)

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