Wilmore returning to space

NASA photo

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, left, and Chris Ferguson, director of Mission Integration and Operations at Boeing, train for the first flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, which will carry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Tennessee Tech alumnus and Board of Trustees member Barry Wilmore is returning to space.

The NASA astronaut will command NASA’s Boeing Crew Flight Test, the inaugural crewed flight of the CST-100 Starliner launching to the International Space Station in 2021.

“This is a test flight. The first flight of this space craft. These don’t come around very often,” said Wilmore. “To have the opportunity to step in and be the commander of the first flight is a great opportunity.”

A native of Mt. Juliet, Wilmore earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Tech, and has served on the Tech Board of Trustees since 2017. His commitment to the university was recently recognized by Gov. Bill Lee, who reappointed Wilmore to the board through 2026.

Wilmore is a retired U.S. Navy captain, with more than 7,800 flight hours and 663 carrier landings in tactical jet aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000.

He has spent a total of 178 days in space over the course of two missions. In 2009, he served as the pilot of space shuttle Atlantis on STS-129, helping to deliver 14 tons of spare parts for the space station. In 2014, he returned to the space station via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 167-day mission, during which he performed four spacewalks.

“I enjoyed the other missions and I was an important part of them,” said Wilmore. “But, to command a launch vehicle is really why I came to NASA from the Navy.”

Wilmore has been training side-by-side with the crew since being named the sole backup for all flight positions in July 2018. On Wednesday, Oct. 7, it was announced that Wilmore would replace Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who has decided not to fly for personal reasons. Wilmore will now shift his focus specifically to the spacecraft commander’s duties in preparation for the flight to the space station. The flight is designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new Starliner system.

“It’s all about the mission,” said Wilmore. “The first time I flew was the space shuttle, taking a lot of cargo to the space station. The second time I launched on a Russian Soyuz and was the commander of the space station. Two very different missions. The first one was just under two weeks and the second one was six months. This one we don’t know how long it will be, but we are training for a long flight.”

Wilmore was a letterman and team captain of the Tennessee Tech football team and was inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. He currently holds the number 2 spot in Tech’s record books for most tackles in a game, and number 3 on tackles per season.

As a member of Tech’s Board of Trustees, Wilmore attended the quarterly meeting held on campus last week, serving on the Academic and Student Affairs Committee. He said now that he is the commander of this upcoming flight, his schedule will change somewhat.

“Right now we are scheduled to launch no earlier than the 25th of June, next year. There is an uncrewed test launch in December or January,” Wilmore said. “As a backup, I was not required to be at certain places at certain times. As the commander, I will have to be there. My whole year will be different but I’m excited about it.”