There's no point in sending people to space if they can't survive the landing. While the early days of space testing are littered with the ghosts of animals who entered orbit before humans, modern testing makes sure the capsule can survive the trip back to Earth before putting anything alive inside. Last week, at NASA's Langley Research Center, Boeing tested its Starliner capsule in a splashdown landing.
It was a watery success! In ideal use, the capsule will deploy parachutes and gently land safely on, well, land. But the conditions for returning from space aren't always ideal, so it’s important to make sure that an oceanic landing works too.
The Langley facility is also NASA's foremost testing ground for hurtling otherwise-fine flying machines at the ground to study how they'll break. Last summer at Langley, NASA crashed airplanes to see where they should put emergency beacons on them so they'll be most effective after a wreck. After that, NASA even put together an almost literal greatest hits of crash test videos. Maybe after the Starliner's splashdown, they'll have enough footage for a water-themed compilation next year.