Compare the latest tech products

Boeing CST-100 (virtually) flown to space


February 28, 2014

Chris Ferguson (center) at the simulator controls

Chris Ferguson (center) at the simulator controls

Image Gallery (4 images)

The commander of the last Space Shuttle mission recently returned to space, but never left the ground. No, this isn’t one of those annoying lateral thinking puzzles. Chris Ferguson, commander of the STS-135 Atlantis mission in 2011 and currently director of Crew and Mission Operations at Boeing, went on a virtual flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in a ground-based simulator as part of NASA’s testing requirements for Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft.

Ferguson’s “flight” wasn’t just a video game joyride. According to Boeing, it was the final milestone before the CST 100’s critical design review. In this case, Ferguson drew on his experience as veteran of three shuttle missions, 40 days in orbit, and 5,700 hours of high-performance flying to demonstrate the spacecraft’s ability to operate with a "Pilot in the Loop." In other words, with a pilot at the manual controls instead of under automatic guidance.

During the simulated mission, Ferguson took the virtual spacecraft through a series of maneuvers, including on-orbit attitude and translation, docking the simulator with a virtual ISS, backing away again, and effecting a manual re-entry.

"It was great to be back in the pilot’s seat, even if I didn't leave the ground," Ferguson says. "It's important for the spacecraft to have manual controls because although it's designed to be largely autonomous, the pilot should always be able to back up that autonomy. Manual flight controls provide a sort of a belt-and-suspenders capability for piloting the spacecraft."

The CST-100 is one of several spacecraft being developed by private companies for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program as a replacement for the space shuttle, for ferrying cargo and crews to the ISS. Featuring a weldless design and a pressure vessel capable of flying up to ten missions before needing to be replaced, the CST-100 is intended to carry up to seven passengers or a mix of passengers and cargo to the space station.

Boeing says that the simulator will be used for preliminary astronaut training until more can be built for training astronauts and mission controllers.

Source: Boeing

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

I'll just take a Dragon.


Myself, I crashed the Space Shuttle countless times, my ass never leaving my chair. No, it's not one of those lateral thinking puzzles, rather, the most realistic PC simulator ever made:

Mihai Pruna

Errrr.......I think the real problem guy's, is getting the thing up there - not docking it! Or did I miss the part about the anti-gravity motor?


With the imminent collapse of relations with Russia, NASA may have to accelerate its crew carrier decision, with the Soyuz route no longer available. Dragonrider is closer to reality than the CST-100, so I would at least expect money to be shifted to SpaceX, with the Boeing design kept temporarily on life support. Boeing could change that game by putting more of its own money into the CST development.

The NASA decision to shut the Chinese out of the ISS team looks really dumb in retrospect, since they have a demonstrated crew vehicle that could have been used as a Soyuz backup.

Does the fragility of international constructs like ISS give a greater push to private efforts like Bigelow's inflatable commercial station, or the SpaceX independent experiment station (unmanned, but temporarily inhabitable to maintain experiments)?

Pat Kelley

The fragile temporary part in current Russian relations is the vestige of Soviet power. Yanukovitch being run out of town presages Vladimir Putin's departure. Putin has no greater chance of restoring the Soviet Union than did the last batch of apparatchniks and KGB & Interior Ministry troops in resisting the last revolution. Remain calm & patient. Vladimir's turn will come in the several years. Also, both launch systems should be built. It is never smart to have only one tool. Preferably without any labels in Mandarin.


Mercury proved then the value of a piloted spacecraft & valid today

Stephen Russell
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles