The commander of the final space shuttle mission has decided against becoming one of the first "corporate astronauts." Chris Ferguson tells the Washington Post that he has stepped aside as commander of the first crewed mission of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft because he has a "lot of key family events" coming up—and he missed too many of them in his decades as a NASA astronaut and Navy pilot. "The year 2021 is shaping up so far as one that I should not be off the planet," says Ferguson, whose Starliner mission would have involved an extended stay on the International Space Station. The first crewed Starliner mission, originally scheduled for 2017, has been pushed back multiple times and is now scheduled for June 2021 at the earliest.
Ferguson is an executive at Boeing, where a spokeswoman confirmed to the AP Wednesday that one of the family events he doesn't want to miss is his daughter's wedding. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm just not going into space next year," says Ferguson. He says he is still "passionately attached" to the Starliner program, and his decision is unrelated to technical problems the spacecraft experienced in an unmanned test mission last December. Boeing says Ferguson will be replaced on the three-person crew with veteran NASA astronaut Barry "Butch" Wilmore. Ferguson, who will be in mission control, says he will "live vicariously through this new crew," who will be on the ISS for up to 6 months. (Read more astronaut stories.)