CFT: Meet the astronauts

May 3, 2024


The names of Wilmore and Williams will soon join Glenn, Carpenter, Schirra and Cooper as pioneering astronauts to launch atop Atlas rockets from Cape Canaveral. 

The first four Americans to orbit the Earth during NASA's Project Mercury all rode early Atlas boosters to place their single-seat capsules into space. Now 60 years later, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will launch astronauts using the latest generation of Atlas V rockets for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. 

On Feb. 20, 1962, the Atlas 109-D rocket launched John Glenn, the first American ever to circle the planet in space, and his Friendship 7 capsule. His three orbits made Glenn a national hero. 

The Atlas 107-D rocket launched Scott Carpenter and Aurora 7 on May 24, 1962, to orbit the Earth three times. Sigma 7 and Walter Schirra were launched by Atlas 113-D on Oct. 3, 1962, to complete six orbits. And Atlas 130-D launched Faith 7 and Gordon Cooper on May 15, 1963 for a 34-hour voyage in orbit, completing the Mercury missions. 

NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will be the first crew members to fly aboard Starliner on its Crew Flight Test (CFT). Wilmore and Williams, both Naval aviators, military test pilots and former commanders of the International Space Station, have worked closely with Boeing to develop the Starliner spacecraft and ULA on the features required to carry crew. 

Atlas V will launch Starliner on its journey to rendezvous and dock with the space station, where the two astronauts will live and work for about a week before undocking and returning to Earth to land at a site in the Western U.S. 

Wilmore, commander of the CFT mission, is a retired U.S. Navy captain and veteran of two previous spaceflights to the space station. Wilmore is from Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, and earned degrees from Tennessee Technological University in electrical engineering and the University of Tennessee in aviation systems. He is married with two daughters. 

Photo by NASAWilmore has accumulated more than 8,000 flight hours and 663 carrier landings, all in tactical jet aircraft, and is a graduate of the United States Naval Test Pilot School. During his tenure as a fleet Naval officer and aviator, Wilmore completed four operational deployments, flying the A-7E and F/A 18 aircraft from the decks of the USS Forrestal, USS Kennedy, USS Enterprise and the USS Eisenhower aircraft carriers. 

Selected as an astronaut by NASA in July 2000, Wilmore was assigned technical duties representing the Astronaut Office on all propulsion systems, including the space shuttle main engines, solid rocket motors and external tank, and also led the astronaut support team that traveled to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in support of launch and landing operations. To date Wilmore has logged 178 days in space and has 25 hours and 36 minutes of time on four spacewalks. 

He completed his first flight as pilot of space shuttle Atlantis on STS-129, logging 11 days in space in November 2009. This was the 31st shuttle flight to the station. During the mission, the crew delivered two Express Logistics Carrier racks and about 30,000 pounds of replacement parts to maintain the station's proper orientation in space. 

Wilmore's second flight was as a long-duration resident aboard the station. From September to November 2014, he served as flight engineer for Expedition 41 and then as commander of Expedition 42 from November 2014 to March 2015 totaling nearly six months in space. Wilmore performed three spacewalks to prepare for new international docking adapters and future U.S. commercial crew spacecraft. In addition, he completed a spacewalk to replace a failed voltage regulator.  Wilmore and two Roscosmos cosmonauts launched to the space station in a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and returned to Earth safely to touch down in Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan after the 167-day mission.

Williams, pilot of the CFT mission, is a retired U.S. Navy captain and veteran of two previous spaceflights as a long-duration resident aboard the space station. Williams is from Needham, Massachusetts, and earned a physical science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy, and a master's in engineering management from the Florida Institute of Technology. She is married and is a dog mom. 

Photo by NASAWilliams has accumulated 3,000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft. She received her designation as a Basic Diving Officer and later was designated a Naval Aviator. Williams was selected for United States Naval Test Pilot School, and after graduation she was assigned to the Rotary Wing Aircraft Test Directorate as an H-46 Project Officer. She went back to the Naval Test Pilot School as an Instructor in the Rotary Wing Department and the school’s Safety Officer.  

Selected as an astronaut by NASA in June 1998, Williams has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions and accumulated 50 hours and 40 minutes of cumulative EVA time on 7 spacewalks. Williams worked with Roscosmos on its contribution to the space station and with the first Expedition crew. After her first flight, she served as Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office. She then performed another long-duration mission that included serving as station commander.   

Her first spaceflight was Expedition 14/15 from December 2006 to June 2007, launching on space shuttle Discovery's STS-116 mission to reach the station. While onboard, Williams established a world record for females at the time with four spacewalks. She concluded her tour of duty by returning to Earth with shuttle Atlantis' STS-117 flight. 

Williams launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Soyuz with a Roscosmos cosmonaut and Japanese astronaut for Expedition 32/33 from July to November 2012. Williams spent 127 days in space conducting research and exploration aboard the orbiting laboratory. She performed three spacewalks to replace a component that relays power from the space station's solar arrays to its systems and repaired an ammonia leak on a station radiator. 


Learn more about the Atlas V CFT launch
See our CFT photo album