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Commander of Boeing’s First Manned Flight to Space Pulls Out to Attend Daughter’s Wedding

Terry Renna/AP/Shutterstock Astronaut Chris Ferguson

Astronaut Chris Ferguson, who was expected to serve as the commander of Boeing’s first test flight to space next year, announced he’ll be giving up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity due to “several commitments” he cannot afford to miss.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday, Ferguson, 59, revealed the news, calling the decision “difficult and personal,” but reassured his followers that he remains “deeply committed to human spaceflight.”

Though the astronaut remained mostly general in his explanation — only saying that the decision was due to prioritizing his family and important commitments — a spokesperson at Boeing confirms to PEOPLE that one of those commitments included his daughter’s wedding.

“I want to share with you a difficult and personal decision I’ve had to make,” he said in the clip. “I have chosen to step aside as commander of the crewed flight test, scheduled for next year. I am deeply committed to human spaceflight. I’m dedicated to the Starliner Program, and I’m passionate about the team that has built her.”

“But next year is very important for my family. I have made several commitments which I simply cannot risk missing,” he continued. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m just not going to space next year. The Boeing team has been very understanding, the crew is doing wonderfully, and thank you for your understanding, too.”

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Above the video, Ferguson wrote in his tweet: “I’m taking on a new mission, one that keeps my feet planted here firmly on Earth and prioritizes my most important crew – my family.”

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft was developed with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and designed to send seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, to the International Space Station in order to conduct “time-critical scientific research,” according to Boeing’s website.

The first unpiloted test flight took off in December 2019 but software issues ultimately prevented the spacecraft from traveling in its planned orbit and reaching the International Space Station, SpaceFlight Now reported, citing a NASA statement.

NASA later announced in a press release that the Commercial Crew Program was aiming to conduct a second, unpiloted test flight no earlier than December 2020. If all goes well, an official crewed mission could blast out in June 2021 at the earliest, according to the space agency.

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Ferguson was tapped for the role of commander of the crewed mission after becoming “an integral part of the Starliner program” since 2011, according to a Boeing press release obtained by PEOPLE.

As commander, he was responsible for leading the development of the spacecraft’s mission systems and crew interfaces, as well as

Astronaut chooses his daughter’s wedding over going to space

It was a defining moment for Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson when he chose dedication to family over a flight to the International Space Station.

Serving as the commander of Boeing’s first astronaut-led flight, Ferguson announced Wednesday that he has pulled himself off the crew so he can attend his daughter’s wedding next year. Ferguson posted a video on Twitter that revealed his decision to stay at home with family.

“I’ll be taking on a new mission, one that keeps my feet planted here firmly on Earth and prioritizes my most important crew–my family,” Ferguson tweeted.  “I’ll still be working hard with the #Starliner team and the @NASA_Astronauts on our crew.”

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Ferguson explained in the video how difficult the decision was.

“Next year is very important for my family. I have made several commitments that I simply cannot risk missing,” Ferguson said.

A Boeing spokeswoman confirmed that one of those commitments was his daughter’s wedding, according to Marcia Dunn of the Associated Press.

Ferguson will be replaced by NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, according to Space.com’s Mike Wall.

“I’m deeply committed to human spaceflight, I’m dedicated to the Starline program and I’m passionate about the team that has built her,” Ferguson shared in his video.

As he steps aside to let Wilmore take the helm, Ferguson stated that he has confidence in the Starliner vehicle, which has been mired in setbacks.  In December 2019, Starliner failed to meet up with the ISS during its debut mission—an uncrewed flight test, according to Space.com.

“I have full confidence in the Starliner vehicle, the men and women building and testing it, and the NASA astronauts who will ultimately fly it,” Ferguson said. “The Boeing team has taken all lessons from our first uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to heart, and is making Starliner one of the safest new crewed spacecraft ever fielded. I will be here on the ground supporting Butch, Nicole, and Mike while they prove it.”

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