Meet the NASA astronauts who will fly on historic SpaceX mission

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The flight has been years within the making, and it’ll mark a number of different firsts: The primary time astronauts have flown to the Worldwide House Station from US soil since NASA retired the House Shuttle Program in 2011; the first-ever crewed mission for SpaceX in its 18-year historical past; and the primary time since 1981 that NASA astronauts will experience aboard a newly-designed spacecraft.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is a a lot completely different car than its predecessor, the House Shuttle, which relied on rocket boosters strapped to an enormous winged spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. Crew Dragon, nonetheless, is a smaller capsule that launches on high of a rocket, bearing extra resemblance to Russia’s Soyuz capsule or the Dragon spacecraft that SpaceX has used to shuttle cargo to the house station for years.

The mission will put Behnken and Hurley among the many ultra-elite membership of astronauts who can say they had been the primary to place a brand new spacecraft to the last word take a look at of flying to the Worldwide House Station. However the males, who’ve beforehand logged tons of of hours aboard the house station, seem calm — even stoic — when discussing their upcoming flight.

“We take it on…similar to the rest,” Hurley, 53, informed CNN Enterprise’ Rachel Crane. “[We’ll] in all probability do much more eager about it after we get again.”

Behnken and Hurley each started their careers as army take a look at pilots and have logged 1000’s of hours piloting supersonic jets. When NASA selected them for this mission in 2018, it continued a protracted lineage of army take a look at pilots deemed to have the “right stuff” for groundbreaking moments in human spaceflight historical past.

Nonetheless, in the event you had informed them whereas they had been zipping round in experimental plane that they’d someday take a look at out a brand new orbital spacecraft, “I feel we might have informed you you had been loopy,” Behnken, 49, mentioned.

The boys additionally occur to share a close-knit friendship on and off the job. They had been in one another’s weddings, and have spent a lot time collectively that they end one another’s sentences, Behnken mentioned.

NASA: Do not come to Florida for SpaceX's historic astronaut launch

We “can predict — virtually by physique language — what the individual’s opinion is or what their subsequent motion goes to be,” Behnken added. “We have simply been doing this so lengthy that it is kinda like having a second set of arms.”

Crew Dragon can be fully autonomous. In actual fact, one model of the car completed an uncrewed test flight to the ISS final 12 months. Its self-flying capabilities give the astronauts some peace of thoughts, Hurley mentioned.
NASA astronaut Robert Behnken's last visit to the International Space Station was in 2010. He arrived aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour.

“You are extra of a monitor of all of the programs and you are not utilizing all of your mind energy to really fly the car,” mentioned Hurley. Although, “the car has handbook functionality in a number of phases, and we will definitely take a look at that out.”

Nonetheless, danger is inherent in any human spaceflight mission. The House Shuttle had flown and not using a fatality for years earlier than the Challenger catastrophe in 1986 and the Columbia tragedy in 2003. Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft has been flying for half a century, however has been concerned in several nonfatal accidents in recent times.

Making ready for his or her upcoming Crew Dragon mission has already been far completely different than the House Shuttle missions Behnken and Hurley have logged. There was no handbook, so the astronauts labored with NASA and SpaceX to create a coaching course of from scratch.

Douglas Hurley piloted STS-135 in 2011, the final flight of NASA's Space Shuttle program.

“From a primary flight standpoint, actually there, there could be some higher quantifiable danger,” mentioned Hurley, whose final time in house was as pilot of the ultimate House Shuttle mission, STS-135, 9 years in the past. Although, he added, NASA and SpaceX officers have labored “completely tirelessly over the past a number of years” to make sure Crew Dragon can safely full the duty. So, the dangers are “in all probability no completely different than another spaceflight.”

For Behnken, who had a son since his final stint in house a decade in the past, the chance takes on a brand new that means. However after 9 years of counting on Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft to get US astronauts to the house station, Behnken mentioned he understands the importance of the Crew Dragon mission taking off from Florida later this month.

“[My son] has solely seen the images and video from earlier than he was born, from my earlier missions…I do need him to know that it is a mission that I really feel strongly about,” Behnken mentioned. “It is going ahead in a means that I feel is necessary for us, as people — as People as nicely. And I need him to be happy with his father.”

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