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Astronaut Chris Ferguson withdraws from Boeing Starliner test flight

October 7, 2020

— Boeing's first commercial astronaut has stepped down from commanding the first crewed test flight of the company's new spacecraft, citing family commitments.

Chris Ferguson has been replaced by NASA astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore aboard the CST-100 Starliner Crewed Flight Test (CFT), which is targeted to lift off to the International Space Station in 2021. The change comes two years after Ferguson was assigned to fly on the mission with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann.

"Next year is very important for my family. I have made several commitments, which I simply cannot risk missing," said Ferguson in a video statement on Wednesday (Oct. 7). "I'm not going anywhere, I'm just not going to space next year."

Ferguson will instead serve as director for mission integration and operations, working to ensure that the Starliner and its training systems meet the needs of NASA's astronauts. In this new role, Ferguson will be one of the last people the crew sees before leaving Earth and one of the first they see upon their return.

"I will be here on the ground supporting Butch, Nicole and Mike," said Ferguson in a statement released by Boeing.

Wilmore has been training side by side with Ferguson, Fincke and Mann since July 2018, when he was named the sole backup for all crew positions on the CFT mission. Wilmore will now shift his focus to the spacecraft commander's duties in preparation for the flight to the space station.

"I'm thrilled and excited about the opportunity to get to work with Nicole Mann, Mike Fincke, the training teams, the Boeing personnel, all," said Wilmore in a video statement. "Obviously, mixed emotions — Chris has been a mentor to me over the years. I am grateful to him for allowing me to follow along and be the backup and do the things and learn what I needed to be ready to assume this role."

A NASA astronaut since 2000, Wilmore has spent 178 days in space over the course of two missions. In 2009, he served as the pilot of space shuttle Atlantis, helping to deliver spare parts for the space station as a member of the STS-129 crew. In 2014, he returned to the orbiting laboratory by way of a Russian Soyuz launch for a 167-day expedition, 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, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

Ferguson has been a member of Boeing's Starliner program since he retired from NASA in 2011 as a three-time spaceflight veteran. His third and last launch was as the commander of STS-135, the final mission of the space shuttle program.

"My personal thank you to Chris for his leadership. He is putting his family first, which Boeing fully supports," said Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. "We are fortunate he will continue to take an active role on the Starliner program and bring his depth and breadth of experience in human spaceflight to the program."

Ferguson is the second member of the original Boeing CFT crew to be replaced. In January 2019, Fincke replaced NASA astronaut Eric Boe, who stepped aside due to medical reasons.

Prior to Wilmore, Fincke and Mann lifting off, Boeing plans to launch a second uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of the Starliner to verify the spacecraft can safely dock at the space station. The first OFT, flown in December 2019, failed to reach the station due to software issues, which the company is now working to correct.

"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," said Ferguson.


Boeing Starliner Crewed Flight Test commander Chris Ferguson (second from right) has withdrawn from the mission, citing family commitments, and has been replaced by backup Butch Wilmore (at left). Wilmore will launch with Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, also pictured in this photo of Boeing's AstroVan transport at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in February 2020. (NASA/Mike Fincke)

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore (at left), Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke train together for Boeing's Starliner Crewed Flight Test at Johnson Space Center in Houston in February 2019. (NASA)

NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore (at left) and Chris Ferguson, director of Mission Integration and Operations at Boeing, train for the first crewed flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft. (NASA)

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson review International Space Station training at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in December 2018. (Boeing)

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