Boeing's Starliner capsule makes safe return from test mission

Boeing's Starliner spacecraft made a safe return home from its five-day stay at the International Space Station on Wednesday

concluding a long-awaited test mission that could pave the way for the Starliner to launch astronauts for the first time later this year.

After detaching from its port at the ISS Wednesday afternoon, the spacecraft spent about four hours gradually lowering its altitude.

As it approached Earth's atmosphere, the spacecraft lit its thrusters in a fiery blaze of heat and speed before deploying parachutes to slow its descent

It landed in a puff of sand at 6:49 pm ET in a remote area of the New Mexican desert, called White Sands, which has long been the site of aerospace and weapons tests.

The capsule touched down three-tenths of a mile away from the targeted landing site, which the webcast hosts described as ""basically a bullseye."

The safe return of the capsule marks a major milestone for Boeing, which has spent years trying to right the program after a string of mishaps

This mission was crewed only by a spacesuit-clad mannequin for this test mission, but NASA and Boeing could deem the Starliner ready to fly its first load of NASA astronauts to the ISS by the end of 2022.