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NASA assigns two astronauts to Boeing's Starliner crew flight test

June 16, 2022

— NASA has selected the first crew to fly on board Boeing's new commercial spacecraft.

Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Suni Williams will fly on the Crew Flight Test (CFT) of the CST-100 Starliner capsule, launching as soon as perhaps later this year. The two veteran astronauts will spend about two weeks in Earth orbit, with most of the mission spent at the International Space Station.

The assignments are NASA's latest change to the CFT crew complement, which has seen at least three other astronauts prepare for the mission since 2018.

Wilmore, who will command the test flight, was first added to the CFT crew in October 2020, when Boeing commercial astronaut Chris Ferguson, a former NASA space shuttle commander, removed himself from the mission, citing family concerns. Wilmore has previously logged 178 days in space on two missions, including a long-duration stay on the space station.

Williams has been serving as the backup test pilot for CFT while assigned as commander of the Starliner-1 mission, Boeing's first post-certification mission. As CFT pilot, Williams takes the place of Nicole Mann, who was on the original crew assigned to the mission in 2018. NASA reassigned Mann to SpaceX's Crew-5 in October 2021.

CFT will be Williams' third flight after spending 322 days aboard two space station expeditions.

Mike Fincke, who replaced fellow NASA astronaut Eric Boe due to an unspecified medical issue in January 2019, has been removed from the CFT prime crew. Fincke will now serve as backup to Wimore and remains eligible for assignment to a future mission. He began working with the Starliner as assistant to the chief for commercial crew in the astronaut office at the Johnson Space Center in 2015.

"Mike Fincke has dedicated the last nine years of his career to these first Boeing missions and Suni the last seven. Butch has done a marvelous job leading the team as the spacecraft commander since 2020," Chief Astronaut Reid Wiseman said in a statement. "We are all looking forward to cheering on Butch and Suni as they fly the first crewed Starliner mission."

The reduction from three to two CFT crew members was based upon current space station resources and scheduling needs. A short duration mission with only two astronaut test pilots is sufficient to meet all NASA and Boeing test objectives for CFT, which include demonstrating the Starliner's ability to safely fly operational crewed missions to and from the space station.

To protect against unforeseen events with transportation to the station, NASA may extend the CFT docked duration up to six months and add an additional astronaut later, if needed.

NASA and Boeing are continuing to conduct data reviews from the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission that concluded in May, The Starliner capsule that flew on that mission was returned to Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it is receiving system checkouts and vehicle inspections.

Boeing's Starliner team is in the process of delivering the initial test flight data to NASA and jointly determining forward work ahead of CFT. These engineering and program reviews are expected to continue for several weeks, culminating in a launch schedule assessment at the end of July, based upon spacecraft readiness, space station scheduling needs and availability to launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

"Starliner and the Atlas V performed well during all phases of OFT-2, and now we are taking a methodical look at each system to determine what needs to be upgraded or improved ahead of CFT, just as we do with every other crewed flight," said Steve Stich, manager of NASA's commercial crew program. "Additionally, Butch, Suni, and Mike have been instrumental in the development of Starliner on the path to having a second space station crew transportation system."


NASA astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore (at left) and Suni Williams inside a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft still under assembly during a 2017 visit to the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. (Boeing/John Proferes)

NASA astronauts Suni Williams, Mike Fincke and Barry "Butch" Wilmore stand below an Atlas V rocket topped by a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on May 18, 2022, a day before the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission launched. (Boeing/John Grant)

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