Boeing’s astronaut capsule parked at the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time, late on Friday. Starliner linked up smoothly with its docking port. The Boeing spacecraft and station were sailing about 270 miles above the South Indian Ocean as they met in orbit. NASA has finally realised its longtime effort to have crew capsules from competing US companies flying to the space station. “Today marks a great milestone,” NASA astronaut Bob Hines radioed from the orbiting complex. “Starliner is looking beautiful on the front of the station,” he added. “This is a really critical demonstration mission and it was important for us to get that demo data and get the learning from each of the steps along the way, and really put the vehicle through its paces,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, told media.
For Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manger, Starliner’s docking success was the ultimate birthday present. He turned 57. The space station’s seven astronauts will unload groceries and gear from Starliner and pack it up with experiments. If the rest of Starliner’s mission goes well, Boeing could be ready to launch its first crew by the end of this year. Starliner will aim for a landing in New Mexico next Wednesday. Boeing signed a multibillion-dollar NASA contract in 2014 to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS using Starliner.