NASA assigns two astronauts to Starliner test flight

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA has assigned two veteran astronauts to the first crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in the latest reshuffle of personnel assigned to the long-delayed mission.

NASA announced on June 16 that Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will fly the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission no earlier than the end of this year. The mission will travel to the International Space Station on a flight currently scheduled to last two weeks.

Both Williams and Wilmore have extensive spaceflight experience. Williams participated in two long-duration ISS missions in 2006-2007 and 2012, with a total of 322 days in space. Wilmore was the pilot of the STS-129 shuttle mission in 2009 and spent six months on the ISS in 2014-2015.

NASA previously assigned Williams to Starliner-1, the first operational Starliner mission to the ISS. Wilmore had been with CFT since 2020 when he replaced Boeing commercial astronaut Chris Ferguson, who abandoned the mission for personal reasons.

When NASA assigned Wilmore to CFT, he was scheduled to fly with fellow NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann. However, NASA reassigned Mann in October 2021 to the SpaceX Crew-5 mission, which is scheduled to launch in September. In the announcement of the new CFT assignments, NASA said Fincke will now train as a backup for CFT “and remains eligible for assignment to a future mission.”

During a briefing last month before the launch of Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test (OFT) 2 uncrewed test flight, Fincke, Williams and Wilmore all said they were training together as an “executive” and not necessarily assigned to a particular mission. Wilmore said that has been the case since OFT-2’s initial launch attempt in August 2021 was postponed due to a problem with the spacecraft’s valves.

“Since that time in August, the three of us have been working as executives supporting Starliner, and we know we’re not necessarily assigned to CFT,” Wilmore said.

A two-week mission, NASA said, “is sufficient to meet all of NASA’s and Boeing’s test goals for CFT.” Several years ago, NASA proposed extending the CFT for up to six months to secure NASA access to the ISS, given the uncertainty over future purchases of Soyuz seats on which the agency mattered to its astronauts. With SpaceX’s Crew Dragon now handling routine crew rotation missions, this expansion is no longer necessary.

NASA has not yet set a date for the CFT mission. In the statement, the agency expected to make a “launch schedule assessment” at the end of July after reviewing data from OFT-2 and any changes needed for Starliner after that mission. Other factors include the timing of other missions to the ISS and the launch schedule for United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5, which is launching Starliner.

“Starliner and the Atlas 5 performed well through all phases of OFT-2, and now we are methodically reviewing each system to determine what needs to be upgraded or improved before CFT, as we do with all other flights. crewed,” Steve Stich, NASA commercial crew program manager, said in the NASA statement.

With Williams’ reassignment to CFT and Josh Cassada’s earlier stint at Crew-5, the only astronaut still on Starliner-1 is Jeanette Epps. NASA said it still plans to fly Epps on this mission, but also trained on Crew Dragon “for additional planning and resource flexibility.”

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