Commander quits NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test


Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson has pulled out from being commander of NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test, the inaugural crewed flight of the CST-100 Boeing Starliner, which is launching to the International Space Station in 2021.

Ferguson, a veteran astronaut who commanded NASA‘s final space shuttle mission in 2011 before leaving the agency for Boeing, has publicly cited personal reasons.

Ferguson will be replaced in the commander’s seat by NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, who has been training for more than two years as a backup alongside Ferguson and fellow crewmates Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, both of whom are also NASA astronauts.

Wilmore has spent a total of 178 days in space over the course of two missions. In 2009, he served as the pilot of space shuttle Atlantis on STS-129, helping to deliver 14 tons of spare parts for the space station. In 2014, he returned to the space station via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 167-day mission, during which he performed four spacewalks.

“Butch will be able to step in seamlessly, and his previous experience on both space shuttle and space station missions make him a valuable addition to this flight,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a press release. “Chris has been a talented member of the crew for this mission. The NASA and Boeing Commercial Crew teams sincerely appreciate the invaluable work he has completed and he will continue to lead in the development of Starliner, which will help ensure that the Starliner Crew Flight Test will be a success.”

Butch Wilmore (left) has replaced Chris Ferguson (right) as Commander of NASA’s Starliner Crew Flight Test. Photo: NASA

The Boeing Crew Flight Test will be the first crewed mission of the Boeing Starliner to the International Space Station, and the third orbital flight test of the Starliner overall after the two uncrewed flight tests, OFT-1 and OFT-2. Originally planned to occur during 2020, the launch date for the mission is currently June 2021. The crew will remain aboard the International Space Station for an extended test flight.

Wilmore is a retired captain in the US Navy, with more than 7,800 flight hours and 663 carrier landings in tactical jet aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000.

“I’m grateful to Chris for his exceptional leadership and insight into this very complex and most capable vehicle,” Wilmore said. “Having had the chance to train alongside and view this outstanding crew as backup has been instrumental in my preparation to assume this position. Stepping down was a difficult decision for Chris, but with his leadership and assistance to this point, this crew is positioned for success. We will move forward in the same professional and dedicated manner that Chris has forged.”

Ferguson will assume the role of director of Mission Integration and Operations and be director of Crew Systems for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program, where he will focus on ensuring the Starliner spacecraft meets the needs of NASA astronauts. In this role, he will be one of the last people the crew sees before leaving Earth and one of the first they see upon their return, as well as supporting them throughout their training and mission.

“I have full confidence in the Starliner vehicle, the men and women building and testing it, and the NASA astronauts who will ultimately fly it,” Ferguson said. “The Boeing team has taken all lessons from our first uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to heart, and is making Starliner one of the safest new crewed spacecraft ever fielded. I will be here on the ground supporting Butch, Nicole, and Mike while they prove it.”

Ferguson has been an integral part of the Starliner program since 2011, after retiring from NASA as a three-time space shuttle veteran, including as commander of STS-135, the final space shuttle flight to the International Space Station.

The development of a safe, reliable and cost-effective solution for crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station remains a priority for NASA and Boeing, allowing the on-orbit research facility to continue to fulfil its promise as a world-class laboratory.

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