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Boeing Starliner Commander Steps Down From First Crewed Mission

Former Shuttle Astronaut and Boeing's Director of Crew & Mission Systems tests out the pressure suit in a Starliner mock-up. Photo: Boeing

A Boeing astronaut has stepped down as commander of the first human test flight of the company’s Starliner spacecraft.

Chris Ferguson was scheduled to command the capsule on its first flight carrying humans to the international space station. Instead, NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore will step in as commander of the vehicle under NASA’s Commercial Crew program.

Ferguson, who commanded the last Space Shuttle mission, said personal reasons prompted his decision. “I’m not going anywhere, I’m just not going into space next year.”

The Associate Press reports Ferguson pulled himself off the crew so he’s on Earth — not at the International Space Station — for his daughter’s wedding next year.

Boeing said Ferguson will remain with the Starliner program, working on mission operations. He joined the Starliner crew in 2011 after retiring from NASA.

“I’m deeply committed to human spaceflight,” said Ferguson. “I’m dedicated to the Starliner program and I’m passionate about the team that has built her. But next year is very important for my family. I have made several commitments that I simply cannot risk missing.”

Wilmore trained as Ferguson’s backup since July 2018. “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.

An uncrewed test flight last year of the Starliner failed to reach the station. After a safety review by NASA, Boeing is working to re-fly the uncrewed mission later this year.

Wilmore, along with NASA astronaut Nicole Mann and Mike Finke, will fly the first crewed launch currently scheduled for 2021 pending a successful uncrewed test mission.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »