Boeing's Starliner flight test just got an unexpected crew shake-up

NASA and Boeing have revealed a crew change for Boeing's upcoming Crew Flight Test, which will see the CST-100 Starliner transport three crew members to the International Space Station next year. Barry "Butch" Wilmore will be replacing Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson for the flight, joining Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann for the mission. Ferguson was set to command the mission, which will be the inaugural flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft.

In a NASA press release today, the agency only said that Ferguson "decided not to fly for personal reasons," but in a statement published to Twitter today, Ferguson elaborates further. "I want to share you a difficult and personal decision I've had to make," Ferguson said. "I have chosen to step aside as the commander of the crewed flight test scheduled for next year. I'm deeply committed to human spaceflight; I'm dedicated to the Starliner program and I'm passionate about the team that has built her."

"But next year is very important for my family," his statement continues. "I have made several commitments which I simply cannot risk missing. I'm not going anywhere, I'm just not going into space next year." Indeed, NASA and Boeing say that Ferguson will step into the role of director of Mission Integration and Operations. He'll also begin serving as director of Crew Systems for Boeing's Commercial Crew Program, where he we ensure "the Starliner spacecraft meets the needs of NASA astronauts."

Ferguson is no stranger to spaceflight, having flown on the space shuttle three times – including serving as commander of STS-135, which was the last mission for the space shuttle program. Wilmore, the astronaut who will be replacing him on the Starliner mission, has spent 178 days in space across two Space Station missions, so he's certainly no newcomer to spaceflight either.

So, while the Starliner crew is going through some changes, it seems that the mission will proceed as otherwise planned. Currently, this first crewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft is slated for the middle of 2021, though a more specific date hasn't been set yet. We'll let you know when more is revealed about this mission, so stay tuned.