NASA and Boeing have announced that NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore will replace Chris Ferguson as commander for the first crewed mission of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Ferguson, a three-time NASA space shuttle veteran, is stepping back from the position for undisclosed personal reasons. He will assume the roles of director of Mission Integration and Operations and director of Crew Systems for Boeing’s Commercial Crew Program.
Wilmore will be joining astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann for the Boeing Crew Flight Test, which is expected to take place next year. According to NASA, he has been training alongside the crew as a backup for the mission since July 2018. During two prior NASA missions—one in 2009 and one in 2014—Wilmore spent a combined 178 days in space.
As previously reported by AVweb, the Starliner’s December 2019 uncrewed flight test experienced intermittent space-to-ground communication issues and two software coding errors that culminated in the capsule failing to make it to its intended orbit. The mission was evaluated by a joint NASA-Boeing independent review team, which identified a total of 80 recommendations for Boeing to address in collaboration with NASA. A second uncrewed test flight will take place before the crewed 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,” said Ferguson. “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.”