COCOA BEACH, Fla. - The first test flight of Boeing's astronaut capsule CST-100 Starliner from Cape Canaveral will happen in September, Boeing test pilot and former shuttle astronaut Chris Ferguson told News 6.
Ferguson will pilot the first crewed flight of the Starliner, which he said could happen in the next several months, but first, Boeing and its partner United Launch Alliance must launch the spacecraft without crew in its first test flight to the International Space Station.
"We have an uncrewed test flight here in September. It's looking good. We were working late into the night last night doing test work, 24/7 operations," Ferguson said. "We are in the final push and I'm optimistic you are going to see humans return to space from the Space Coast within the next several months."
Boeing and NASA officials had previously said the uncrewed test launch was scheduled for no earlier than August. However, NASASpaceflight.com reported in June that the space station "Visiting Vehicle plan" showed that date had slipped to September. Ferguson's remarks confirms that date change.
In 2014, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft to shuttle its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The commercial crew program will return astronaut launches from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011.
Both companies are in the last stages of certifying their spacecraft with NASA to fly humans.
SpaceX successfully launched its astronaut capsule Crew Dragon to the space station in February and returned the capsule to Earth. However, an abort test and a crewed test flight has been delayed after the flight-proven spacecraft exploded during a ground engine test in April. NASA has not rescheduled the SpaceX final test flight since the incident.
When Starliner's first test flight happens, ULA's Atlas V rocket will launch the capsule from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
After the uncrewed test flight, Boeing will also need to complete a launch abort test with the spacecraft before it can launch astronauts. During the abort test, ULA will launch the capsule and trigger an abort, which will send the capsule away from the rocket testing the system designed to carry the astronauts to safety.
Ferguson will pilot Starliner, with NASA astronauts Nicole Aunapu Mann and Mike Fincke, to the space station on its first crewed test flight.
"I've learned to not count my chickens early but I'm optimistic this year is going to be a very good year for the Boeing team," Feguson said.
Ferguson is a former NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Navy captain who now works for the Boeing Starliner program. He was the last crew member to step off Atlantis after the final space shuttle mission in 2011. Since then, no man or woman has been launched on a U.S. spaceship from Cape Canaveral.
Ferguson spoke to News 6 on Saturday after appearing along with other former and current astronauts in a Astronaut-Corvette parade in Cocoa Beach. The event was in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing next week.
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