UT grad and NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore is going back up in space as part of a team that will fly next year on the inaugural manned test flight of the CST-100 Boeing Starliner to the International Space Station, the space agency announced Wednesday.
The Mt. Juliet, Tenn., native already had been training in a backup role since 2018 for the assignment. Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson elected not to make the test flight, so Wilmore will take his place focusing as spacecraft commander.
Other crew members are Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann. The flight will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Wilmore has served two space missions, spending more than 170 days in orbit.
In 2009, he piloted space shuttle Atlantis on STS-129 on a mission to deliver spare parts to the ISS. Five years later, he rode on a Russian Soyuz craft for a 167-day job that included four spacewalks.
According to NASA, the flight will test the new Boeing Starliner system, part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program.
Starliner represents the U.S.'s new strategy for getting crews up and down to the ISS.
“Butch will be able to step in seamlessly, and his previous experience on both space shuttle and space station missions make him a valuable addition to this flight,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, in a news release.
Wilmore is from Mt. Juliet, Tenn. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville and a master’s degree in aviation systems from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
A former Navy captain, he's been in the astronaut program since 2000.