I am embarking on a new mission, one that keeps my feet firmly planted here on Earth and prioritizes my most important crew: my family. I will still work hard with the #Starliner team and the @NASA_Astronauts of our crew. pic.twitter.com/PgdhPqwYQSOctober 7, 2020
Chris Ferguson won’t be commanding the first manned flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, after all.
Ferguson, a veteran astronaut who commanded NASA’s last space shuttle mission in 201
Ferguson will be replaced in the commander’s seat by NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, who trained as backup alongside Ferguson and fellow crewmates Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, both NASA astronauts, for more than two years.
“Butch will be able to intervene smoothly and his previous experience in both space shuttle and space station missions makes him a valuable addition to this flight,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of the mission direction for human exploration and NASA operations he said in a statement.
Wilmore amassed a total of 178 days in space in two missions, a space shuttle flight to the orbiting laboratory in 2009 and a nearly 6-month stay aboard the station in 2014 and 2015. During this latter mission, Wilmore conducted four spacewalks.
Ferguson said stepping down was a very difficult decision and he remains committed to helping Starliner work. “But next year is very important to my family and I’ve made several commitments that I simply can’t risk losing,” he said in a video statement posted on Twitter today (October 7).
“Chris was a talented crew member for this mission,” Lueders said. “The teams from NASA and the Boeing Commercial Crew sincerely appreciate the invaluable work they have completed and will continue to lead the development of the Starliner, which will help ensure the success of the Starliner Crew Flight Test.”
In 2014, Boeing signed a $ 4.2 billion contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to carry out at least six operational missions to and from the space station with Starliner. SpaceX signed a similar $ 2.6 billion deal around the same time, which Elon Musk’s company will build using its Crew Dragon capsule.
SpaceX has already flown its version of Crew Flight Test – the Demo mission-2, which transported NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the orbiting laboratory this summer. SpaceX is now preparing for its first operational flight to the station, Crew-1, due to launch on October 31.
Starliner’s road was more rocky. In December 2019, the capsule failed to meet the station as planned during its debut mission, the unmanned Orbital Flight Test. Boeing will complete that mission, probably early next year, before putting the astronauts on board for the Crew Flight Test.
Ferguson’s departure is not the crew’s first upheaval for the Crew Flight Test. Fincke boarded in January 2019 after Eric Boe was withdrawn for medical reasons.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.