Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been friends and astronauts for 20 years. Between them, they flew three Space Shuttle missions but never made it to space together. That all changed on May 30, 2020, in a moment that ushered in a new era in human spaceflight.
A Public-Private Partnership in Space
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is a partnership between NASA and the private sector aerospace industry to develop the next generation of launch systems and spacecraft to carry humans into orbit and to the International Space Station. NASA’s goal through the program is to find private, commercial partners to help with low-Earth orbit space flight so that NASA can focus on rockets and spacecraft needed for deep space missions.
SpaceX is a private company founded by Tesla’s Elon Musk, who is also SpaceX’ chief engineer. SpaceX’ goal is to develop the next generation of reusable launch vehicles to carry humans into space. In one of the most ambitious mission statements you will find on any planet anywhere, SpaceX wants to ‘make humanity multi-planetary.’ Multiplanetary as SpaceX’ vision is, SpaceX and NASA are partners in the Commercial Crew Program. That partnership took one giant leap forward on May 30, 2020.
Welcome To A New Era In Human Spaceflight
On May 30, 2020, SpaceX’ Falcon 9 rocket carried its Crew Dragon Spacecraft into space from Launch Complex 39A at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The mission — catchily called SpaceX Demo-2 — was designed as a complete test of SpaceX’ launch, orbit, docking, and landing systems.
For NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, it marked “a new era in human spaceflight.” For SpaceX’ Elon Musk, it was “a dream come true.” If it was that exciting for Bridenstine and Musk, imagine how exciting it must have been for veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley who were onboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon when it lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 30, 2020. Who are Behnken and Hurley?
That Time That Friends Bob and Doug Went To Space Together
Behnken and Hurley are much more than coworkers. Doug Hurley had this to say on a NASA video promoting the May 2020 launch:
We’ve been close friends since we started as astronauts almost 20 years ago. So being lucky enough to get to fly with your best friend is kind of a — I think there’s a lot of people that wish they could do that, and we’re lucky enough to do it.
Hurley and Behnken were both selected as astronauts by NASA in 2000. Behnken made it to space first on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 and 2010. Hurley’s first trip to space occurred on the Endeavour in 2009. The Space Shuttle Program ended on August 31, 2011, after Mission STS-135 by Space Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. Did Behnken and Hurley imagine that they would have the chance to fly into space again nearly a decade later? And, this time, on a private rocket?
Fifty-three-year-old Hurley was Spacecraft Commander. His job? Just everything to do with launch, landing, and recovery. By all accounts, he was really good at his job. SpaceX’ Dragon launched successfully with President Donald Trump on hand despite weather-related delays. Behnken was Joint Operations Commander on the SpaceX mission. He was responsible for rendezvous, docking and undocking, and all Demo-2 activities while docked to the International Space Station.
Behnken’s big moment came 19 hours after takeoff when the friends’ craft arrived and then docked successfully with the International Space Station. You can watch the moment in all its slowly unfolding glory in this video.
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What Friend Will You Take To Space With You?
What are the chances that you and a friend and coworker might get to launch into space on a private rocket one day? Maybe you could even make it a work thing, one that hopefully turns out better than this. Bob and Doug had a head start in getting to space, being astronauts and all. But it’s not out of the question that you and a friend can make a similar trip. Just watch for flight announcements from SpaceX. The company plans to use its Dragon platform to dive — or would that be launch? — into the space tourism business.
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