Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore will fly the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission no earlier than late this year.
NASA will fly two astronaut test pilots aboard the agency’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission to the International Space Station, where they will live and work off Earth for about two weeks.
CFT Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, who NASA assigned to the main crew in October 2020, will join NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who will serve as a pilot. Williams previously served as a reserve test pilot for CFT while being assigned as commander of NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, Starliner’s first mission after certification. As CFT pilot, Williams will take over as NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, who was originally assigned to the mission in 2018. NASA redeployed Mann to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission in 2021.
Based on current space station resources and scheduling needs, a short-term mission with two astronaut test pilots is sufficient to meet all of NASA’s and Boeing’s test targets for CFT, which includes demonstrating Starliner’s ability to safely fly operational crews to and from the space station. To protect against unforeseen events with crew transports to the station, NASA can extend the CFT docking time up to six months and add another astronaut later, if needed.
NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, previously named by the agency as Joint Operations Commander for CFT, will now train as a reserve spacecraft test pilot and remain eligible for assignment to a future mission. Fincke’s expertise will continue to benefit the team as he maintains his position as flight test leader and plays an important role in Starliner certification.
Reid Wiseman, head of the astronaut office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said: “Mike Fincke has spent the last nine years of his career on these first Boeing missions and Suni the last seven. Butch has done a fantastic job of lead the team as spacecraft commander since 2020. It was amazing to see Starliner’s successful voyage to the International Space Station during the mission Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) last month.We are all looking forward to cheering on Butch and Suni when they fly the first the Starliner mission crew. “
Wilmore, Williams and Fincke have previously flown as longtime crew members aboard the space station.
NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps continues to prepare for an upcoming long-term mission aboard Starliner-1. NASA has also identified Epps reserve flight capabilities on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for additional scheduling and resource flexibility. Epps has started training on the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft to prepare for this opportunity.
Meanwhile, NASA and Boeing continue to conduct OFT-2 data reviews while evaluating future CFT launch opportunities. Following the successful completion of the unmanned OFT-2 mission, the Starliner crew module has returned to Boeing’s commercial crew and cargo handling facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will undergo system checks and vehicle inspections. The Starliner team is in the process of delivering the first test flight data to NASA and jointly deciding the future work ahead of a crew flight. These technical and program reviews are expected to continue for several weeks, culminating in a launch schedule assessment at the end of July, based on spacecraft readiness, space station scheduling needs and Eastern Range availability.
Steve Stich, Director of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, added: “Starliner and Atlas V performed well during all phases of OFT-2, and now we take a methodical look at each system to determine what needs to be upgraded or improved for CFT. “Just like we do with all other flights. In addition, Butch, Suni and Mike have been instrumental in the development of Starliner en route to a second space shuttle crew system.”
For the flight test with crew, Boeing’s Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Following a successful CFT mission, NASA will begin the final process of certifying the Starliner spacecraft and crewship system for the space station. Regular, long-term commercial crew rotation missions enable NASA to continue the important research and technology research that takes place on board the orbiting laboratory. Such research benefits humans on Earth and lays the foundation for future exploration of the moon and Mars, beginning with the agency’s Artemis mission, which includes landing the first woman and the first colored person on the moon’s surface.
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