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We finally know why Boeing’s test flight commander bowed out of Starliner test

Published Oct 9th, 2020 6:10PM EDT
starliner launch crew
Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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  • Boeing’s Starliner crew shakeup gets a little more clear as we learn one of the reasons why commander Chris Ferguson stepped down.
  • The astronaut had family commitments in 2021, including his daughter’s wedding.
  • The mission has been delayed so many times, and the coronavirus caused so many issues, that things lined up poorly for the astronaut.

It was a few days ago that astronaut Chris Ferguson announced he would be stepping down from his position as the commander of the first Boeing Starliner crewed test flight in 2021. That’s a big deal, as Starliner has been repeatedly delayed and any further hiccups just serve to put the company even farther behind its rival SpaceX, which has already delivered on its promise to NASA with Crew Dragon.

At the time, Ferguson’s statement was relatively vague. He noted that he had prior commitments that he just couldn’t ignore. Now, there are lots of things that a person makes commitments for, but there aren’t many that couldn’t be canceled for a trip to space. Thanks to a statement from Boeing, now we know what is keeping Ferguson’s feet firmly planted on the ground.

According to a company statement, at least one of his commitments that Ferguson has to attend is the wedding of his daughter. That… makes a lot of sense, actually.

As I mentioned in the first article covering this story, the coronavirus pandemic has seriously messed up lots and lots of plans both in the United States and around the world. In fact, NASA and Boeing have noted that the Starliner program was affected by the pandemic as well, and given the project’s history of delays and setbacks, that’s no surprise.

On top of that, wedding venues have been notoriously strict about cancellations this year, and from personal experience, I know that there is a shocking number of venues that aren’t accepting reschedules or cancellations without charging massive fees, despite the virus spread. It’s a bad situation all around, and while we can’t know for certain what Ferguson’s circumstances are, I’d hesitate to jump to the conclusion that either the astronaut or his daughter are being “selfish,” as some commenters have argued.

In all likelihood, the original wedding plans (and whatever other commitments Ferguson made for 2021) didn’t interfere with the original planned crewed launch of Starliner. Remember, Starliner’s launches have been delayed many times, and the major setback of the uncrewed test mission glitch pushed back Boeing’s timeline significantly. Now, the launch (as it currently stands) is scheduled for a time that overlaps with Ferguson’s family events, and he’s made the decision to put his family first.

But don’t worry, the way Boeing’s Starliner program has been going, the crewed launch may well be delayed again, so you never know who might be aboard that spacecraft when it finally launches.

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