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Christopher Ferguson, commander of the final space shuttle and now a Boeing executive, has stepped down as commander of the company’s first pilot test flight of the complex CST-100 Starliner commercial spacecraft, Boeing announced on Wednesday. He has been replaced by NASA astronaut Barry Butch Wilmore.
“I have a new mission, which keeps my feet firmly planted in the ground, and gives priority to my most important team – my family,” Ferguson tweeted. “I will still work hard with the #Starliner team and the ASNASA_ astronauts on our team.”
In a video linked to the tweet, Ferguson, a father of 59 and three, said his decision to step down was “tough and personal”.
“I have a deep commitment to human space travel. I’m dedicated to the Starliner project and I’m interested in the team that built her,” he said. “But this year is very important for my family. I have done so many duties and I do not see it.
“I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t go into space next year. The Boeing team is very understanding, the team is doing wonderfully, thank you for your understanding as well. ”
I am embarking on a new mission that keeps my feet firmly planted on the earth here and is a priority for my most important team – my family. I will work even harder #Starliner Team and ASNASA_ Astronauts On our crew. pic.twitter.com/PgdhPqwYQS
– Christopher Ferguson (astro_berg) October 7, 2020
This is the second crew change of the mission since Ferguson and astronauts Eric Poe and Nicole Mann were assigned to the aircraft in August 2018. Poe was dragged from staff next January due to an unspecified medical issue. He was replaced by astronaut Michael Finke.
Although no longer flying, the former Navy F-14 carrier pilot, Daphne graduate and test pilot instructor will continue to play a key role in the development of Starliner, serving as director of Boeing’s mission coordination and operations and crew systems.
“My personal thanks to Chris’ leadership,” said Leon Garrett, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Defense. “He puts his family first, which Boeing fully supports. He will continue to play a key role in the Starliner program, and we are fortunate that he will bring his depth and breadth of experience in human space travel to this project.”
Following a test flight of the Starliner capsule last December, Ferguson took off in the midst of the turmoil at Boeing, leaving the Marine Corps F / A-18 fighter pilot and Rookie astronaut Mann as the only original crew. Crew Flight Test, or CFD, is a member of the mission.
Following the December flight, Boeing managers decided to resume work later this year or early next year to verify the effectiveness of required software upgrades and other changes. It has pushed the first piloted Starliner to the 2021 summer deadline, two years later than expected when initial crew work was announced.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is set to send four astronauts to the International Space Station later this year, following the successful pilot test flight of its Crew Dragon capsule earlier this summer by astronauts Robert Behanken and Douglas Hurley, co-pilot of the Ferguson space shuttle.
Ferguson retired from NASA in July 2011 after his third and final spacecraft and went to work for Boeing, which helped the company build the Starliner business group ship. In August 2018, to no one’s surprise, he was named to Starliner’s first pilot mission.
“The Starliner vehicle, men and women building and testing it and I have full confidence in NASA astronauts, will eventually let it fly,” Ferguson said in a Boeing statement.
“The Boeing team has taken all the lessons from our first unmanned orbital test to heart, and makes the Starliner one of the safest new crew spacecraft ever launched. I will support them when Butch, Nicole and Mike prove it.”
Wilmore thanked Ferguson for “exceptional leadership and insight into this highly complex and highly efficient vehicle”.