The commander of Boeing’s first astronaut flight has pulled himself off the crew. He wants to be on Earth—not circling high above it—for his daughter’s wedding next year.
NASA has turned over the job of ferrying astronauts to and from the space station to private companies. Presently, Boeing and SpaceX are working on space flights.
In August, SpaceX closed out its first ever crew mission to outer space. (See “SpaceX Makes a Splash.”) The company plans to launch its second astronaut flight at the end of this month.
Meanwhile, Boeing is planning its first space flight. But last week, Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson announced his decision to step aside. It’s the second crew switch for the Boeing Starliner capsule. Last year, NASA astronaut Eric Boe stepped aside from the first crew for medical reasons.
In a video posted to his Twitter account, Ferguson called his decision a difficult one. But he says, “Next year is very important for my family.” He says he has several commitments “which I simply cannot risk missing.” A Boeing spokeswoman confirmed one of those is his daughter’s wedding.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m just not going into space next year,” Ferguson says. However, he stresses that he remains committed to the Starliner program and will continue to work for Boeing.
Ferguson has already flown in space three times. He commanded the last NASA shuttle flight in 2011. He has been replaced on the crew by NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore, who had been training as a backup for the test flight. Wilmore joins NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke.
The spaceship needs to remain grounded until the end of this year—or even early next year—because of software problems during a test.
In December or early January, Boeing plans to repeat the Starliner test flight without a crew, in hopes of reaching the International Space Station this time. If that goes well, Wilmore, Fincke, and Mann will fly to the space station aboard a Starliner as early as June 2021. They will remain in orbit anywhere between two weeks and six months. Those tentative dates are what made Ferguson pull the plug on a fourth interstellar foray.
What do you think of astronaut Chris Ferguson’s decision? What message does his attitude convey to his fellow astronauts and his family?
(Astronauts Butch Wilmore, left, and Chris Ferguson participate in a flight control simulation for a Boeing CST-100 Starliner capsule at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. James Blair/NASA via AP)