Astronaut Sunita Williams to co-lead test mission to International Space Station

NASA astronauts Suni Williams, left, Barry “Butch” Wilmore, center, and Mike Fincke, right, watch as a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard is rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 ahead of the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
Credits NASA/Joel Kowsky

The National Aeronautic and Space Administration, NASA, announced Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams will pilot the two-member crew on board the agency’s Boeing Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, the first crewed Starliner mission, to the International Space Station, where they will live and work off the Earth for about two weeks.

The Boeing CFT commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore, whom NASA assigned to the prime crew in October 2020, will join NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who will serve as pilot, according to a June 16, 2022 press release from NASA.

Williams previously served as the backup test pilot for CFT while assigned as commander of NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, Starliner’s first post-certification mission.

Sunita Williams. Photo:

As CFT pilot, Williams takes the place of NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, originally assigned to the mission in 2018. NASA reassigned Mann to the agency’s SpaceX Crew-5 mission in 2021.

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, the agency said.

Those objectives include demonstrating Starliner’s ability to safely fly operational crewed missions to and from the space station.

To protect against unforeseen events with crew transportation to the station, NASA may extend the CFT docked duration up to six months and add an additional astronaut later, if needed, the agency qualified.

NASA astronaut Mike Fincke, whom the agency previously assigned as the Joint Operations Commander for CFT, will now train as the backup spacecraft test pilot and remains eligible for assignment to a future mission.

“Mike Fincke has dedicated the last nine years of his career to these first Boeing missions and Suni (Sunita Williams) the last seven. Butch has done a marvelous job leading the team as the spacecraft commander since 2020,” Reid Wiseman, chief, Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is quoted saying in the press release. “It was great to see Starliner’s successful journey to the International Space Station during the Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission last month. We are all looking forward to cheering on Butch and Suni as they fly the first crewed Starliner mission,” Wiseman added.

Wilmore, Williams, and Fincke each have flown previously as long-duration crew members aboard the space station.

All three have been instrumental in the development of Starliner on the path to having a second space station crew transportation system, NASA noted.

For their test flight Boeing’s Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida end of June.



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