Former NASA 'naut Christopher Ferguson has withdrawn as commander from the first crewed mission of Boeing's calamity capsule, the CST-100 Starliner.
Three-time Space Shuttle flyer Ferguson joined the Boeing Starliner programme in 2011. He was assigned to the first crewed test flight of the CST-100 Starliner in 2018, only to watch the uncrewed demonstration mission almost end in disaster (delicately referred to by NASA as a "close call").
Ferguson said on Twitter that he was stepping down for personal reasons and that next year – when the first crewed mission is scheduled to take place – was "very important for my family."
Ferguson will remain on the Starliner programme, but without a definitive launch date or mission duration, planning will be a challenge. He will be replaced by fellow NASA veteran Barry "Butch" Wilmore, who will join astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann. Wilmore has flown aboard both Space Shuttle and Soyuz, and has accumulated 178 days in space.
Had things gone to plan, Ferguson would have already gone to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Starliner. However, the first uncrewed and truncated mission suffered near-catastrophic problems on its flight in December 2019. Such were the software snafus that the words "spacecraft loss" were heard around the halls of NASA.
Boeing therefore bit the bullet and agreed to fly the mission again once minor stuff, like a lack of end-to-end testing, had been addressed. A no-earlier-than-December date for the reflight (assuming all "mandatory" fixes have been made) has been mooted, with the first crewed demo pushed back to no earlier than June. ®