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NASA reveals crew for Starliner spacecraft’s first astronaut flight

NASA has named the two astronauts set to participate in the first crewed test flight of Boeing’s new Starliner spacecraft.

The Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission will be piloted by Barry “Butch” Wilmore, a former Space Shuttle pilot and two-time visitor to the International Space Station (ISS). Alongside him will be Suni Williams, an experienced astronaut with two space missions under her belt. In 2007, Williams also became the first person to run a marathon in space when she jogged on the station’s treadmill for more than four hours. NASA astronaut and three-time space visitor Mike Fincke will train as a backup pilot for the mission.

Dream team! 
We're so excited for @Astro_Suni and astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore" to fly on #Starliner's first crewed flight test to @Space_Station. Every part of the spacecraft was developed with astronauts in mind and they have been vital to the team and their progress. pic.twitter.com/FoLtphWXRH

— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) June 16, 2022

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft achieved its first successful test flight in May, following a failed mission in December 2019.

A date for the CFT mission will be determined once NASA and Boeing have completed their assessment of the flight data from May’s uncrewed test mission. The space agency said it’s hoping to announce a schedule for CFT toward the end of next month.

After launching aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Wilmore and Williams will take the same flight path that Starliner took in last month’s mission before docking with the ISS for a two-week stay.

“Based upon current space station resources and scheduling needs, a short duration mission with two astronaut test pilots is sufficient to meet all NASA and Boeing test objectives for CFT, which include demonstrating Starliner’s ability to safely fly operational crewed missions to and from the space station,” NASA said in a release shared on Thursday.

It added that both the Starliner and the Atlas V “performed well during all phases” of May’s test flight. “We are taking a methodical look at each system to determine what needs to be upgraded or improved ahead of CFT, just as we do with every other crewed flight.”

A successful CFT mission will send the Starliner on its way to achieving full certification, enabling it to provide ongoing crewed flights to and from the space station in the same way that SpaceX deploys its Crew Dragon spacecraft today.

SpaceX conducted the first crewed test flight of the Crew Dragon in the summer of 2020, a feat that returned crewed launches and landings to the U.S. after a nine-year pause following the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. The Crew Dragon has since made five crewed flights (Crew 1-4 and Axiom-1) to the ISS, with the next one scheduled for October 2022.

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