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Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson withdraws from Starliner test flight

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WASHINGTON — Chris Ferguson, the former NASA astronaut who was to command the first crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, has withdrawn from the mission for personal reasons, the company announced Oct. 7.

Ferguson, who joined Boeing in 2011 after a NASA career that included commanding the final space shuttle mission, was to lead the Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission currently scheduled for launch in the middle of 2021, a flight that also includes NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke.

In an interview, Ferguson said he decided to step down from the mission because of family obligations. “It was a decision that was not made lightly,” he said. “It surrounds what has really amounted to a year that is replete with family obligations that I just do not want to risk missing.”

He didn’t elaborate on those obligations, beyond being “the best kind of family issues.” He noted that, over his career as a NASA astronaut and, before that, a U.S. Navy pilot, he was away from his family and missed key moments. “The events next year are good ones, and I just don’t want to risk missing them.”

Ferguson will be replaced by NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, who had been training as a backup for the first and second crewed Starliner flights. “Having had the chance to train alongside and view this outstanding crew as backup has been instrumental in my preparation to assume this position,” Wilmore said in a statement. “Stepping down was a difficult decision for Chris, but with his leadership and assistance to this point, this crew is positioned for success.”

“Butch will be able to step in seamlessly, and his previous experience on both space shuttle and space station missions make him a valuable addition to this flight,” Kathy Lueders,