On Dec. 9, 2011, NASA will witness the departure of the astronaut who served as commander for the final space shuttle mission STS-135. Chris Ferguson has announced his plans to retire from the space agency so that he can enter the private sector. With Ferguson’s departure, all of the commanders who flew the final three shuttle missions have left or will be departing NASA.
With no defined human space flight mission objectives in place and with the only ride to space currently being Russia’s Soyuz Spacecraft many astronauts are leaving the agency for other prospects. The space agency is losing an astronaut at the rate of one astronaut every two months. As of Dec. 9 NASA will have 58 astronauts in its active roster.
Ferguson is a retired U.S. Navy captain – his command of Atlantis’ final flight marked his third trip into space. The 13-day mission was a resupply flight to the International Space Station and saw some 10,000 pounds of supplies and spare parts delivered to the orbiting outpost. With the final landing, conducted on July 21, 2011, Ferguson and his crew wrapped up the shuttle program’s 30 year history.
“Chris has been a great friend, a tremendous professional and an invaluable asset to the NASA team and the astronaut office,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office. “His exceptional leadership helped ensure a perfect final flight of the space shuttle, a fitting tribute to the thousands who made the program possible.”
Ferguson’s very first mission, STS-115, was also on Atlantis. He served as the pilot on this mission which took place in 2006 and delivered the P3 and P4 truss segments to the space station. His next shuttle flight was STS-126 on shuttle Endeavour, this mission saw water reclamation and habitation systems transported to the ISS (as well as conducting a crew swap out). Ferguson has over 40 days of space flight experience.
Ferguson joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1998. Upon his completion of initial astronaut training, he performed technical duties related to the shuttle’s main engines (SSMEs), the orbiter’s large, orange external tank, solid rocket boosters (SRBs) as well as software utilized on the shuttles. Before he was given the nod to be the commander of STS-135, Ferguson was the deputy chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center located in Houston, Texas.
“Chris has been a true leader at NASA,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, “not just as a commander of the space shuttle, but also as an exemplary civil servant, a distinguished Navy officer and a good friend. I am confident he will succeed in his next career as he brings his skill and talents to new endeavors.”