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Boeing’s new space capsule will undergo one of its most challenging tasks next month when it performs the pad abort test to ensure astronauts can eject safely from the spacecraft in the event of a launch mishap.

The test will bring the CST-100 Starliner, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, one step closer to flying Americans to space from U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. The test will prove crucial in determining whether Boeing, which was originally expected to fly humans for the first time in November, can keep with its current timeline or face further delays

“Yes, we’re flying later than we intended to,” acknowledged Ferguson, who previously flew three Space Shuttle missions, including the last. “But ultimately the focus is in the right place, and that is, we’re not going to fly until we’re ready. We’re not going to fly it until we consider it safe for human space flight operations.”

Ferguson, a retired Navy captain who has worked for Boeing since 2011, also talked about what it’s like to be the “Boeing guy” training alongside NASA astronauts in Houston and the “friendly” competition on the commercial program with SpaceX, which is developing the competing Crew Dragon capsule

How is your NASA experience helping you in your current role?

I left NASA in 2011 shortly after the shuttle program ended. I really didn’t know what my future held. … Boeing brought me in and talked to me about this program. It was an opportunity to get in on the ground floor and help design a vehicle. It’s every test pilot’s dream to be able to to be able to get in there and make it look the way you want it to look. You could take all the things, all the oddball switches and ways that you did things in the shuttle that didn’t make any sense and say, “I’m going to fix all that and we’re going to do it in a better way.” It sounded very attractive.

In terms of what I brought over from shuttle, I think probably the most important thing … is three key people who were highly engaged with with avionics modification in the shuttle called CAU, or cockpit avionics upgrade, which really brought the space shuttles’ cockpit up to the 21st century. … How does somebody interact with the spacecraft in the 21st century? There won’t be many switches. There’s not many knobs, there’s not many dials.

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