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 He has been replaced by NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore.
Boeing said Tuesday it is “making excellent progress” toward launching a second unpiloted test flight of its Starliner crew capsule to the International Space Station by the end of this year or in early January, setting the stage for the first Starliner demonstration mission with astronauts in mid-2021.
Members of NASA’s independent panel of aerospace safety advisors raised concerns last week about quality control problems that “seemingly have plagued” Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program, while urging NASA to closely monitor SpaceX’s plans to reuse Crew Dragon spaceships on astronaut flights to the International Space Station.
NASA has completed an exhaustive review of software problems and procedural oversights that prevented an unpiloted Boeing Starliner capsule from docking with the space station last year. The agency is implementing 80 recommendations to clear the way for a second test flight later this year and, if all goes well, Boeing’s first piloted flight next spring, officials said Tuesday.
A review team studying software glitches and other miscues that cropped up during an unpiloted test flight of Boeing’s CST-100 crew capsule last December has made some 60 recommendations to make sure all the known shortcomings are addressed before the spacecraft is cleared for another flight, NASA managers said Friday.
The program manager in charge of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program said Friday that additional checks would have uncovered problems with the spaceship’s software that plagued the craft’s first unpiloted orbital test flight in December, but he pushed back against suggestions that Boeing engineers took shortcuts during ground testing.
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.
Christina Koch, veteran of six spacewalks outside the International Space Station — including the first all-female excursion — will join a Russian commander and an Italian flight engineer for a fiery plunge back to Earth early Thursday, setting a new world record for the longest single flight by a female astronaut.