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Commander of Boeing’s First Manned Flight to Space Pulls Out to Attend Daughter’s Wedding

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Terry Renna/AP/Shutterstock Astronaut Chris Ferguson

Astronaut Chris Ferguson, who was expected to serve as the commander of Boeing’s first test flight to space next year, announced he’ll be giving up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity due to “several commitments” he cannot afford to miss.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday, Ferguson, 59, revealed the news, calling the decision “difficult and personal,” but reassured his followers that he remains “deeply committed to human spaceflight.”

Though the astronaut remained mostly general in his explanation — only saying that the decision was due to prioritizing his family and important commitments — a spokesperson at Boeing confirms to PEOPLE that one of those commitments included his daughter’s wedding.

“I want to share with you a difficult and personal decision I’ve had to make,” he said in the clip. “I have chosen to step aside as commander of the crewed flight test, scheduled for next year. I am deeply committed to human spaceflight. I’m dedicated to the Starliner Program, and I’m passionate about the team that has built her.”

“But next year is very important for my family. I have made several commitments which I simply cannot risk missing,” he continued. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m just not going to space next year. The Boeing team has been very understanding, the crew is doing wonderfully, and thank you for your understanding, too.”

RELATED: NASA Astronaut Jeanette Epps Will Become First Black Woman to Join International Space Station Crew

Above the video, Ferguson wrote in his tweet: “I’m taking on a new mission, one that keeps my feet planted here firmly on Earth and prioritizes my most important crew – my family.”

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft was developed with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and designed to send seven passengers, or a mix of

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NASA astronaut who was to command the first crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, has withdrawn from the mission for personal reasons, the company announced Oct. 7.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

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SpaceX reinforcing heat shield of its Dragon spacecraft ahead of planned October flight

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He said there “was nothing to be concerned with at all times. The astronauts were safe, and the vehicle was working perfectly.” The heat shield is a vital component of the spacecraft that protects the astronauts as they plunge through the thickening atmosphere, creating temperatures that reach as high as 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition to reinforcing the part of the heat shield, he said the company is refining how it measures the capsule’s altitude as it returns to Earth. During the August test flight, the drogue parachutes deployed at a slightly lower altitude than the company expected, but still well within safety parameters, he said.

Finally, SpaceX and NASA are working with the Coast Guard to create a 10-mile “keep-out zone” around the spacecraft once its splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

During the test mission, recreational boats swarmed the vehicle, still loaded with volatile propellant, after it landed in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a safety hazard. “We’re going to have more boats on the next go-round, and make sure that the area is really clear of any other boats,” Koenigsmann said.

The test mission saw Hurley and Behnken spend two months on the International Space Station before their return. Now SpaceX is scheduled to launch a crew of four astronauts — three Americans and one Japanese — in the wee hours of Oct. 31. It would be the first operational flight of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and the first time the company has flown four people at once on what will be a long-duration mission to the station, lasting six months.

NASA said it is close to granting SpaceX the final certification that would pave the way for the company to fly astronauts to the space station on a regular basis under NASA’s “commercial

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NASA schedules the first Crew Dragon operational flight for Halloween

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“The new target date will deconflict the Crew-1 launch and arrival from upcoming Soyuz launch and landing operations. This additional time is needed to ensure closure of all open work, both on the ground and aboard the station, ahead of the Crew-1 arrival. The increased spacing also will provide a good window of opportunity to conduct additional testing to isolate the station atmosphere leak if required. SpaceX continues to make progress on preparations of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, and the adjusted date allows the teams additional time for completing open work ahead of launch.”

The mission will take NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi, to the ISS. There will stay there for six months. SpaceX delivered the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be used for this flight to Cape Canaveral in Florida back in August. The capsule will launch on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Halloween at around 2:40AM Eastern time.

NASA says it’s in the final stages of the data reviews needed for the company’s certification following Demo—2. It will broadcast a series of media briefings to provide updates about the certification process and to talk about the Crew-1 mission starting on September 29th, 11 AM Eastern.

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