Christopher Ferguson, commander of the final space shuttle flight and now a Boeing executive, has stepped down as commander of the first piloted test flight of the company’s troubled CST-100 Starliner commercial spacecraft, he and Boeing announced Wednesday. He has been replaced by NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore.
Two software errors detected after launch of a Boeing Starliner crew ship during an unpiloted test flight last December, one of which prevented a planned docking with the International Space Station, could have led to catastrophic failures had they not been caught and corrected in time, NASA said Friday.
Boeing said Tuesday the first orbital test flight of its commercial crew capsule, named the Starliner, will be delayed until August “in order to avoid unnecessary schedule pressure” and give priority on the Atlas 5 rocket’s manifest to a U.S. Air Force communications satellite. NASA confirmed Wednesday that officials have approved an extension of the Starliner’s first crewed mission to last up to several months.
NASA safety advisors on Thursday lauded hardware milestones on Boeing and SpaceX commercial crew capsules, but said multiple technical issues, including problems with parachutes, must be resolved before the human-rated ships are ready to carry astronauts, adding that both companies continue to pursue schedules that appear to be unachievable.
Boeing has reshuffled a sequence of test flights planned for the company’s CST-100 Starliner capsule after stuck valves inside a test version of the ship’s service module caused a fuel spill in June, delaying the commercial spacecraft’s first unpiloted orbital demo mission until late this year or early 2019, and moving back the first crew launch to mid-2019, a company official said Wednesday.