We now know who will be able to take Boeing’s Starliner capsule out for its first crewed test.
NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams will participate in the Crew Flight Test (CFT), Starliner’s first crewed mission to the international space station, the agency announced today (June 16). Wilmore will command the mission, with Williams serving as pilot and fellow NASA astronaut Mike Fincke training as backup pilot.
“Mike Fincke has dedicated the last nine years of his career to those first Boeing missions and Suni the last seven. Butch has done a marvelous job leading the team as spacecraft commander since 2020,” Reid said. Wiseman, chief of NASA’s astronaut office. Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a press release (opens in a new tab).
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“It was great to see Starliner’s successful trip to the International Space Station during the Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) last month,” added Wiseman. “We all look forward to cheering on Butch and Suni as they fly the first crewed Starliner mission.”
OFT-2 was an uncrewed deconfinement cruise to the orbiting laboratory that launched on May 19 and landed on May 25. The success of that mission appears to have paved the way for CFT, although NASA and Boeing are still analyzing OFT-2 data to determine what fixes or upgrades, if any, will be needed before Wilmore and Williams can board. Starliner.
These data reviews are expected to continue for at least another month. NASA aims to complete an assessment of the CFT launch schedule by the end of July, agency officials said in today’s statement.
The test flight will take off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V Rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, as did OFT-2. The CFT is expected to last approximately two weeks, although this and other mission parameters are not set in stone; NASA could extend CFT’s duration by up to six months if needed, agency officials said in today’s statement, and it could also add a third astronaut to the flight.
If all goes well with CFT, NASA will certify Starliner for operational crewed flights to and from the space station. Agency astronaut Jeannette Epps is training to fly on the first of those missions, which is called Starliner-1, NASA officials said in today’s statement. But she also trains on SpaceX Dragon capsule in case circumstances require him to fly that vehicle instead.
NASA signed astronaut taxi contracts with Boeing and SpaceX in 2014. SpaceX is already fully operational, launching five crewed missions to the station so far with Dragon and the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. That tally includes the SpaceX version of CFT, a two-person test flight called Demo-2 that took off in May 2020.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab).