- NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first to fly SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship – and the first people in history to fly any commercial spaceship.
- The duo is set to launch Crew Dragon towards the International Space Station on Wednesday, May 27.
- Here’s how the astronauts were selected and what the preparations for their groundbreaking launch have looked like.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
SpaceX is poised to launch its first astronauts into space on Wednesday: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
Their flight on the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship will mark the first time an American spacecraft has carried NASA astronauts since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.
Behnken and Hurley’s liftoff is expected to launch a new era of US spaceflight, since it could allow NASA to stop relying on Russian launch systems to get astronauts into space. It will also make the two astronauts the first to ever fly a commercial spacecraft.
“Bob and I were lucky enough to be selected together,” Hurley told The Atlantic in September. “As we get closer to launch, things in the last year have actually been pretty hectic. We’ve been spending increasing amounts of time in California, because that’s where most of the work is being done for Dragon.”
In preparation, they have run through emergency procedures, undergone extensive training the Crew Dragon’s mechanisms, worn their new spacesuits, and met with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
“People to a degree think it’s pretty glamorous to be able to go into space, but it’s actually like a messy camping trip,” Hurley told Reuters in June 2019.
Here’s how the astronauts were selected and how they’re preparing to fly Crew Dragon to the space station.
In 2018, NASA selected Behnken and Hurley to be the first astronauts to fly SpaceX’s new spaceship. They’re about to become the first to fly any commercial spacecraft.
SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spaceship as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, a competition that spurred private companies to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.
In total, NASA selected nine astronauts to conduct the first human test flights of the Crew Dragon and its Boeing counterpart, the CST-100 Starliner.
After years of testing and demo flights, SpaceX is finally ready to fly astronauts. Launch is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27.
You can watch the liftoff and Crew Dragon’s arrival at the space station live.
It will be the first time an American spacecraft has launched astronauts since 2011, when the space shuttle program ended.
Behnken and Hurley have been working closely with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon’s development since 2015, so they’re well equipped to fly the ship.
Both men started out as military pilots. Hurley spent 24 years as a test and fighter pilot in the Marine Corps, logging over 5,500 hours in more than 25 different aircraft.
Behnken was an Air Force test pilot. He logged over 1,500 hours flying more than 25 aircraft.
NASA hired them both as astronauts in 2000, and they became friends when they worked together in the space shuttle program.
Behnken flew on two space shuttle missions, logging over 708 hours in space with a total 37 hours of spacewalks.
Hurley piloted two space shuttles, including the very last one, spending a total of over 683 hours in space.
Since NASA’s final space shuttle flight, however, the agency has relied on Russia’s Soyuz system to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
But Russia has nearly quadrupled its prices over a decade.
A single round-trip seat now costs about $US85 million, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN in September.
NASA expects a Crew Dragon seat to cost about $US55 million.
However, that doesn’t include the $US1.2 billion NASA spent on the new spacecraft’s development in hope of replacing Soyuz.
Behnken and Hurley’s preparation for the first crewed flight involved intensive training exercises and dry runs of launch day procedures.
In total, the two astronauts have worked together for two decades.
“Bob and I got pretty close. It’s just like anything else-you gravitate to certain people,” Hurley told TheAtlantic. “We spent a whole bunch of time together, and I got to the point where I thought, ‘Hey, maybe this guy isn’t so bad.'”
In 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry, killing its seven-member crew, Hurley and Behnken were stationed on the runway together.
“On landing day, we were the two to catch the Columbia coming back,” Behnken told The Atlantic. “We would have gone in, met the crew, and got them out. That was our shift.”
“I’ve seen Doug’s behaviour at my wedding, I’ve seen Doug’s behaviour in an aeroplane, and we’ve worked together dealing with the aftermath of the worst thing you can imagine happening in our career field,” Behnken said.
“I can predict his actions. He can predict mine,” he added.
Behnken, Hurley, and other Commercial Crew astronauts have advised SpaceX as it developed the Crew Dragon’s inner workings, consulting on the designs of switches and control screens.
“We’re not the beneficiaries of a super-formal training program – it’s kind of being developed as we go,” Behnken told the Atlantic.
Commercial Crew astronaut Suni Williams previously told Business Insider that she and other astronauts warned SpaceX and Boeing that early versions of their spaceships showed the crew too little on-screen information.
“Automation can help us, but then you do have to watch out,” Williams said. “We talked to both partners about: How do I check this? I have a timeline in front of me – how do I know these things are happening? Where do I check? Where do I look? What’s my confirming cue?”
The two have split their time between Florida and California to evaluate the Crew Dragon’s final designs.
“Bob and I, the last two years, have essentially been living in California, working hand-in-hand with the folks at SpaceX to get us to this point,” Hurley recently told the BBC.
Safety is the top priority, so Commercial Crew astronauts have practiced evacuating SpaceX’s launch pad in the unlikely event of danger before liftoff.
That emergency escape requires the astronauts to load into baskets on a zipline-like wire. Once they zip to the ground, an armoured vehicle picks them up.
After practicing that escape exercise, Behnken said: “Each time today when we headed down the crew access arm, I couldn’t help but think about what it will be like to strap into Dragon on launch day.”
The astronauts have also run through the process of being retrieved from the Crew Dragon capsule after it splashes down in the ocean.
They have even done a dress rehearsal with the new SpaceX spacesuits.
“NASA has not done a flight-test program for a spaceship since the space shuttle. So you’re talking late 70s, early 80s is the last time we kind of did this as an agency,” Hurley said in a 2018 NASA video.
“Some of it is kind of re-learning those techniques and those things that you need to make sure that you’re watching out for,” he added.
Both men have said they’re looking forward to trying out the new spacecraft and getting back up to the space station.
“When you get up there and look back at the Earth, I think there isn’t anybody who that hasn’t changed,” Behnken told The Atlantic. “It really does change you, and hopefully for the better.”
He added: “People ask us about commercialization of space, and I firmly believe that the more people we can get to go into space, the better off the planet’s going to be.”
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