NASA/David C. Bowman

At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, NASA and Boeing engineers drop a full-scale test article of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner into the the LRC’s Hydro Impact Basin. Unlike the earlier Apollo capsules, the Starliner is built to come down on dry land. But in the unlikely event of a water landing, the designers need to be sure that the capsule will float properly, and they also need to test crew rescue and recovery procedures.

NASA illustration

The Starliner is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a joint venture between NASA and private industry to develop a sustainable and reliable way to send astronauts to the International Space Station and into low Earth orbit. After launching atop an Atlas V rocket, the Starliner will be capable of delivering and returning up to seven crewmembers and/or cargo to the ISS. It will also provide for crew return in case of emergency, function as a 24-hour safe haven should the need arise, and be able to remain docked to the ISS for up to 210 days (the Space Shuttle could only stay docked for up to 12 days). NASA and Boeing hope to start sending the Starliner to the ISS by the end of 2017.