CAPE CANAVERAL, FL — In a mission reminiscent of the not-so-distant space shuttle era, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly to the International Space Station, marking the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American spacecraft from American soil since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.
As part of the SpaceX Demo-2 program, Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to fly on board the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 27.
The Commercial Crew is working with partners SpaceX and Boeing to develop a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the space station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit, according to a NASA news release.
NASA said commercial transportation to and from the space station will provide additional research time and more opportunities for discovery aboard the orbiting laboratory.
“That’s what Commercial Crew is all about. This is a new generation, a new era in human spaceflight,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a news briefing May 1 at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “NASA has the ability to be a customer – one customer of many customers – in a very robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit. We also want to have numerous providers competing against each other on constant innovation.”
These types of partnership aren’t new to NASA, Bridenstine said. Throughout its history, the agency has worked with industry and academia. Private contractors have built rockets, satellites and spacecraft for NASA while colleges and universities have worked with NASA scientists and engineers to develop technology that will lead to discoveries.
As the 30-year Space Shuttle Program drew to a close, NASA made plans to reach beyond low-Earth orbit and focus on the exploration of the moon and Mars. A little more than two years after the final shuttle flight, SpaceX’s Dragon and Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft began launching atop their companies’ Falcon 9 and Antares rockets to resupply the International Space Station, according to Kirk Shireman, manager of NASA’s International Space Station Program. The companies developed the rockets and spacecraft through public-private partnerships with NASA.
“Commercialization is a big effort on board the International Space Station,” said Shireman. “We’re working with commercial partners developing facilities, testing modules. Today, we already transport cargo commercially, and very soon, of course, we look forward to transporting our crews commercially. This really is the next major step in commercializing low-Earth orbit.”
During the past nearly 20 years of continuous human presence on board the orbiting laboratory, Shireman said resident crews have conducted more than 2,900 scientific investigations for more than 4,000 researchers with partners in 108 countries across the globe.
“We are closer than ever to bringing human spaceflight capabilities back to the United States for the first time since 2011, since the space shuttle retired,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew mission management. “The criticality of this is not just that capability but to help the space station stay fully operational – to help not only our space program but the programs of many countries around the world.”
The upcoming mission, called the SpaceX Demo-2 mission, will serve as an end-to-end flight test for the SpaceX crew transportation system, from launch to docking to splashdown at the mission’s end. It is the final flight test for the system to be certified for regular crew flights to the space station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Bridenstine believes the mission is in good hands with astronauts Behnken and Hurley.
U.S. Air Force Col. Robert Behnken hails from St. Ann, Missouri. He received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis in 1992 and his master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1993 and 1997, respectively.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Douglas G. Hurley was born in Endicott, New York, but considers Apalachin, New York, his hometown.
He graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1988 with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering and received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at Tulane University the same year.
After graduation, he attended The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, and later, the Infantry Officers Course. Following Aviation Indoctrination in Pensacola, Florida, he entered flight training in Texas in 1989, and then reported to Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 101 at the Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California, for initial F/A‐18 training. Upon completion of training, he was assigned to Marine All Weather Fighter/Attack Squadron 225, where he made three overseas deployments to the Western Pacific.
In December 1997, he was assigned to the Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron (VX‐23) as an F/A‐18 project officer and test pilot, and became the first Marine pilot to fly the F/A‐18 E/F Super Hornet.
He was serving as the operations officer for the Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron in 2000 when he was tagged for the astronaut program. This will be his third space flight.
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The view the SpaceX Demo-2 briefings, click here.