Meet the NASA Astronauts Making History With ‘Launch America’ SpaceX Flight

Date: 2020-05-22 16:30:30

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The two astronauts who will test drive SpaceX’s brand new rocketship are classmates and friends, veteran spacefliers married to veteran spacefliers, and fathers of young sons.

Together, they will end a nine-year drought for NASA when they blast into orbit next week from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

Retired Marine Col. Doug Hurley will be in charge of launch and landing, a fitting assignment for the pilot of NASA’s last space shuttle flight.

Air Force Col. Bob Behnken, a mechanical engineer with six spacewalks on his resume, will oversee rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station.

“It’s probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand new spaceship. And I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend here, Doug Hurley,” says Behnken.

Behnken’s excitement is shared by Hurley.

He says: “You know, your first shuttle flight, at least my experience was that it you know, you just don’t have any idea what to expect. And, you know, you’ve worked so hard to get to that point. And it’s exciting on so many levels. I think this this is a little bit more measured in a lot of ways because, one, we’ve we’ve been to space before, but we’ve also worked a very, very long time in this collaboration with Space X to get to the launch pad.”

Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, are NASA’s first test pilot crew in decades.

Their flight will mark the return of astronaut launches to the U.S., the first by a private company.

While SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule and its escape system have already been demonstrated in flight with mannequins, there are no guarantees.

In spaceflight, there never are.

Hurley and Behnken are both two-time space shuttle fliers. They were among four astronauts chosen in 2015 for NASA’s commercial crew program.

At the time, Behnken was serving as chief of NASA’s astronaut corps and the only way to and from the space station was on Russian rockets.

Veteran former NASA astronaut Michael E. Lopez-Alegria says the mission carries a particular significance for Americans.

“There’s so many reasons why this SpaceX demo 2 launch is huge. I mean, obviously first time we’ve launched Americans for American soil in almost a decade. It gets us out from an obligation and a dependence on the Russian system, which is good any time. But it’s particularly good now when there’s some significant geopolitical tensions,” says Lopez-Alegria.

The men trained on both SpaceX and Boeing’s crew capsules, before NASA assigned Hurley and Behnken to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which soon surged ahead of Boeing in the race to fly first.

That put Hurley ahead of his former shuttle commander, Chris Ferguson, now working for Boeing and assigned to the first Starliner capsule crew.

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