Air Force and Marine Veterans-Turned NASA Astronauts Head to International Space Station

NASA/Kim Shiflett

From NASA Reports

Last year, the U.S. celebrated the 50th anniversary the Apollo 11 mission, when man landed on the moon for the first time.

This year, the country once again has reason to celebrate, even admist the coronavirus pandemic, as NASA and SpaceX send the first astronauts to the International Space Station from the U.S. since 2011.

Later today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, who are both U.S. military veterans, will fly on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket for an extended stay at the space station.

NASA is encouraging the U.S. public to view the launch via livestream, and has dubbed the event #LaunchAmerica.

Two Veterans, Fathers and Best Friends Head Into Space

As veterans of the U.S. Air Force and Marines, respectively, Behnken and Hurley have extensive pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle. Both are also husbands (they married other astronauts), fathers and, according to a New York Times article, best friends.

Before joining NASA in 2000, Behnken was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force. Born in St. Anne, Missouri, he has bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University, and earned a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology.

Similarly, Hurley served as a a fighter pilot and test pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps before he joined NASA, also in 2000. The New York native holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from Tulane University in Louisiana and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland.

Following #LaunchAmerica and the Mission of the Crew Dragon NASA Astronauts

Once Behnken and Hurley launch from Florida, it will take them about 24 hours to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station. The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring the approach and docking, and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.

After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on the Crew Dragon spacecraft in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.

The length of their mission has yet to be determined.

Photo credit NASA/Roscosmos

The International Space Station photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking in 2018.

Upon the as of yet undetermined conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown, just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea and returned to Cape Canaveral.

This mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.

-This story originally appeared on NASA.gov and has been edited for USO.org.

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