HOUSTON – He's still the NASA astronaut he once was. Same breast position. Same Top Gun Instincts. Same American flag on the left shoulder of his flight suit. Chris Ferguson even has a call sign, "Fergy".
There is a small detail that distinguishes Ferguson from the NASA astronauts with whom he trains together. Where they wear the Space Agency's red and white and blue logo on their spacesuits, he wears Boeing's company insignia – a small accessory that points the space agency to a new era of space travel.
Ferguson retired to NASA Today he is the commander of the last Space Shuttle mission in 201
As a test pilot of the inaugural flight of Boeing Starliner spacecraft, he would serve alongside NASA astronauts. But NASA hopes its presence in the International Space Station mission heralds a long-awaited next chapter in America's manned space program, in which commercial ventures have ended the government's long-held monopoly on space, hoping to expose civilians.
NASA was unable to transport people from US soil since the shuttle was retired. Since then his astronauts have flown with Russian rockets from a Soviet launch site in Kazakhstan to the space station. In 2014, NASA awarded $ 6.8 billion worth of contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft to rehabilitate the space fleet from the Florida spaceport
The space agency since the early days The year's ordinary people wanted to fly Space Shuttle, hoping that by hiring companies to deliver a kind of taxi service to the space station, they would also bring all sorts of passengers into orbit.
In the contracts, NASA included a provision that allows Boeing and SpaceX to sell tickets to ordinary people, even tourists, to fly on NASA missions – civilian astronauts who would train the companies and then fly to the station where they would live in space for about a week.
"We wanted to fundamentally enable a new market," said Phil McAlister, the director of NASA's commercial space department. "We wanted these companies to sell their services to non-governmental customers, and NASA has always wanted to make space flights available to a wider audience."
That's also the goal of SpaceX.
"Human spaceflight is the core mission of our company – to help create a future in which millions of people explore the stars and live on other planets," said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, opposite Washington Post. 19659003] gathered in the Roosevelt Hall of the White House in 1985, Vice President George HW Bush said he was pleased to announce "the first private citizen in the history of space travel." It was Christa McAuliffe, a 36-year-old high school teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, who promised to keep a diary of her in orbit in time, just like "the pioneers of the Conestoga Wagon Days."  NASA had won the space race to the Moon in the Cold War and now wanted to make space travel with their space shuttle, a winged spacecraft that was supposed to fly at low cost.
NASA was already eyeing its next big program – flying a journalist, a contest that had attracted interest from some of the biggest names in the news industry, including Walter Cronkite.
"Over time, poets, painters, workers, musicians and others will come to fly," the New York Times reported.
And then, 73 seconds after the space shuttle Challenger took off, it exploded, killing McAuliffe and the six other passengers.
The Teacher in Space program was actually canceled McAuliffe's backup, Barbara Morga n, finally flew on the shuttle in 2007). There was no journalist in space. After the Shuttle Columbia disintegrated in 2003 and again killed all seven on board, NASA began to downgrade the shuttle program.
But now is a growing commercial space industry, driven in large part by the finances of a few billions of entrepreneurs
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, speaks of settling Mars, though he never flies a single human being anywhere , and says his company will eventually fly two paying tourists on a voyage around the moon. While flying NASA's astronauts remains the company's top priority, it also plans to fly "flying missions for private individuals," Shotwell said. In addition to the round of the moon, she said the company wants to sign another deal to fly private citizens, even though she refused to provide details.
Jeff Bezos & # 39; Blue Origin hopes to fly clients across the edge of space in suborbital ways within a year or so. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, who stopped even when a co-pilot was killed when his spacecraft fell apart during a 2014 test flight.
Even Boeing, the big government contractor, has teamed up with a company called Space Adventures to help tourists with their flights. The Virginia-based company has assisted seven tourists, including American businessman Dennis Tito, in organizing flights of Russian rockets to the orbiting space station. The company will not divulge the cost – estimated at tens of millions of dollars – but there is a list of several others, including Google's co-founder Sergey Brin, who made a $ 5 million deposit in 2008.  Maybe one day, costs will go down – companies say this is the goal as more people come into space. But now space would be a playground for the super-rich – or government astronauts. Virgin Galactic charges $ 250,000 for his flights. Blue Origin, which plans to start selling tickets next year, has not announced a prize
Axiom Space, a Houston-based company, plans to build a private space station and has hired Philippe Starck, the French designer, to be so modern and as comfortable as a space outpost: oval windows in the cabins, soft and soft walls, not metal, and an observatory with 360-degree vision, the "best view anyone has ever seen on Earth," Axiom said. Co-founder Mike Suffredini, who had served as the manager of the International Space Station for NASA.
The company hopes to launch the first parts of the station in late 2022 or 2023, he said. In the meantime, it has an agreement with NASA to send tourists to the International Space Station for up to 10 consecutive days. The Cost: $ 55 Million
NASA's McAlister Will Not Be Held Back by Prices
"I think we're just getting started," he said. "Historically, you can look at air travel, it was very, very expensive when it was introduced, only relatively wealthy people were able to afford air travel when it was first offered, and then over time we saw new generations of airplanes Ferguson, a former fighter pilot from the Navy, completed a top-gun training and flew NASA three times, where he spent more than 40 days in orbit. He was appointed an astronaut in 1998 and was then the commander of the last mission, which was launched from the United States.
"Mission completed, Houston," he said after the Shuttle Atlantis came to a halt. "Having served the spacecraft for over 30 years, the spacecraft has earned its place in history and it has come to a final stop."
Ferguson made sure he was the last to leave the shuttle. There were speeches and toasts that marked the occasion. But there was sadness underneath. NASA and the country were founded. Seven years later, it is still …
He never thought he would fly again. Especially like that.
"What is Fergy then?" said Sandy Magnus, a former NASA astronaut who flew into space twice with Ferguson. "A private astronaut? He's unique, he's not a tourist, he's paid, he spreads technical knowledge in space, but he's not a government astronaut, so what's his name?"
Ferguson now not only flies the country, but for his employer. Boeing uses its own test pilots to test its vehicles, including commercial aircraft and fighter jets. A spaceship is no different, Ferguson said.
He also sees a crucial moment in the history of manned space travel playing a crucial role: "Can we make space travel safe and cost effective, not just for the elite establishment of big companies and governments with deep pockets?"  Ferguson is now 56, with gray temples, adult children, and progressive lenses. His reflexes are not what they were when he flew F-14 Tomcats on aircraft carrier decks. And his wife, who thought it was all over, is getting nervous as Boeing keeps pushing back the first flight data to finish off the Starliner and meet NASA's stringent safety requirements.
Ferguson also gets nervous – and the pressure rises. The Trump government has re-launched the National Space Council, prioritizing space and striving to launch crew rockets from the Florida Florida coast.
Who will start first – Boeing or SpaceX? It is a subject of intense speculation in the space community, a modern space race in which companies revive the roles of nations: Boeing, the traditional star, against Elon Musk's cheeky and agile outfit.
The contest has come to the public After Boeing boss Dennis Muilenburg boasted that the first rocket that would bring people to Mars, would be built by his company.
Musk replied on Twitter, "Do it."
Boeing confirmed last week that the emergency stop is imminent The system suffered a major problem during a test in June: propellants escaped when the engines were shut down. While Boeing officials said, "We are confident that we have found the cause and are pushing corrective action," the issue is likely to further delay the start-up schedule.
In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office also said this was worrisome that Boeing's abortion system might force the spacecraft to "crash" in an emergency, potentially jeopardizing the crew's safety.
Boeing said it has solved the problem and will "meet NASA or exceed requirements."
SpaceX also had to contend with delays as it has contributed to the correction of a problem that its Falcon 9 missile has in one spectacular fireball exploded as she fueled on the launch pad in 2016.
In his corner, Boeing Ferguson, a secret weapon, has a polite and sophisticated pilot with an impeccable resume.
On the last shuttle mission, he left an American flag aboard the International Space Station, with "the goal that the next crew launches Amer Ican ground brings it home."
The race is like a "Art of adults conquering the flag, "said Ferguson. "It probably has a much bigger meaning for me than for someone out of our competition." One of the last people to leave the US "does not claim it," he said. "But we are in a pretty good position."
This spring, Ferguson was back in the simulator's cockpit, training to fly again. It had been years since he had flown, and he was a little nervous that he was rusty. He was now an executive, wearing the corporate uniform of pressed pants and jerseys more often than flight suits.
He has a sly company title: Boeing's director of occupation and mission operations.
The shuttle had wings, like an airplane. His new spaceship was a thimble-shaped capsule that was much harder to control. In this particular test, he would face a worst-case scenario: every autonomous spacecraft computer would be out there, which means that it would have to fly it manually and hit the atmosphere at Mach 25 or 25 times the speed of sound then somehow bring it a gentle landing. Two of the four NASA astronauts who had tried had failed, lost control of the spaceship so that it crashed, and Ferguson was eager to do extra exercises.
"I do not have to embarrass myself and you." he had said to his coach.
"The practice is good," she said.
He fought with what he called the "pitchworm". If the spaceship hit too much, it would be nearly impossible to recover. It was also hard for him to see the screen because he was so close.
"I have to tilt my head up to look through the right part of my glasses," he complained.
"Go buy a cheap pair of readers," said his coach.
"I have many cheap readers," he shot back. "I just forgot to take her."
He forgot to bring her the next day for the official test. Only now was he in a full space suit, and each time he tilted his head to look through the lower part of his lenses, his glasses were pulled crooked by pushing against his helmet.
The spacecraft began to oscillate 120 kilometers
"Oh, let's go," said Ferguson, grabbing the joystick and firing the thrusters in short bursts to keep the spacecraft level. "Game on."
Behind a glass wall, two evaluators watched
"It makes it look easy," said one. "But it goes from easy to difficult really fast."
The spaceship broke through the thickening air and flew Mach 60 km, then Mach 13, then Mach 6.5. Ferguson was in the rut, talking to himself and firing the thrusters to stabilize the spaceship.
"Keep hitting the worm again and again," he said quietly to himself. "Beat it back."
"He looks really good," said one of the evaluators behind the glass wall. "You can see he's fighting the field."
Height: 50 km, then 40 km, then 30 km
At last the parachutes sat up. The spaceship splashed down. Ferguson delivered his line and rehearsed the coda that would usher in a new space age:
"Houston, we've landed."