Commander of Boeing's First Manned Flight to Space Pulls Out to Attend Daughter's Wedding
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."
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 crew and cargo, to the International Space Station in order to conduct "time-critical scientific research," according to Boeing's website.
The first unpiloted test flight took off in December 2019 but software issues ultimately prevented the spacecraft from traveling in its planned orbit and reaching the International Space Station, SpaceFlight Now reported, citing a NASA statement.
NASA later announced in a press release that the Commercial Crew Program was aiming to conduct a second, unpiloted test flight no earlier than December 2020. If all goes well, an official crewed mission could blast out in June 2021 at the earliest, according to the space agency.
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Ferguson was tapped for the role of commander of the crewed mission after becoming "an integral part of the Starliner program" since 2011, according to a Boeing press release obtained by PEOPLE.
As commander, he was responsible for leading the development of the spacecraft's mission systems and crew interfaces, as well as testing system concepts and technologies for the launch and ground systems, according to his biography on Boeing's website.
Prior to joining the Starliner team, the astronaut journeyed to space three times: in 2006 as the pilot of the STS-115 (Atlantis), in 2008 as commander of the STS-126 (Endeavour), and most recently, in 2011 with the STS-135 (Atlantis), his bio states.
Overall, Ferguson has spent over 40 days in space and 5,700 hours in the space-bound aircraft, according to his bio.
While he won't be adding to that accumulated time on Starliner, their press release notes that Ferguson will help with the mission in another way by serving as the director of Mission Integration and Operations.
This role will give him the opportunity to make sure the spacecraft and training systems are performing to the expectations of NASA's astronauts and support them as they complete their training and eventual 2021 mission, the press release states.
Veteran astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore will now serve in Ferguson's place and join Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke for the historic mission, according to Boeing's press release.