Philly-Born Space Explorer Set to Become First “Corporate Astronaut”

NASA has chosen Northeast Philly native and Drexel grad Chris Ferguson to lead crew members on a first-of-its-kind journey to the International Space Station next year.

nasa, chris ferguson

From left to right: Eric Boe, Chris Ferguson, Nicole Mann. | Photo via Boeing

Philly could be repped all the way in outer space next year.

Set to command what is scheduled to be NASA’s first launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in seven years is Chris Ferguson, a 56-year-old Philly-born space explorer.

Ferguson, who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from Archbishop Ryan High School and Drexel University, is one of nine astronauts chosen by NASA to fly to and from the International Space Station on commercial spacecraft made by Boeing and SpaceX next year.

Ferguson works as director of Crew and Mission Systems for Boeing — he’s been dubbed the first “corporate astronaut.” If all goes as planned, he could make history as the first private citizen to launch to orbit on a commercially operated space craft.

Both Boeing and SpaceX say their spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner and the Crew Dragon, respectively, will be ready for launch sometime next year. Both companies have hit a few snags along the way, though, so it’s not clear who will launch first.

This will be the fourth space flight for Ferguson, a former Navy fighter pilot. He’s previously spent more than 40 days in space for NASA during three shuttle missions, but he retired from the federal organization and joined Boeing in 2011.

“The engineer in me always thought if I’m not flying a spaceship, I ought to be part of the team building one,” Ferguson recently told Boeing.

The Drexel grad said his “fingerprints are all over” the Boeing Starliner, which he and two other crew members, Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, are set to launch from Florida.

It could be the first time the nation has sent astronauts to space from U.S. soil since 2011, when NASA retired its space shuttle Atlantis and Ferguson was the last person to step off the shuttle.

Ferguson told Boeing that he’s “thrilled to get the chance to go back to space on a vehicle that I helped design from the ground up.”