CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — They are a pair of astronauts who have worked together for 20 years — but this week they're set to launch on the biggest mission of their lives.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are about to strap into SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, making them the first people that Elon Musk's company will attempt to carry into space on Wednesday. The mission, called Demo-2, represents the first launch of NASA astronauts from the U.S. since the space shuttle program ended nine years ago.
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Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, were selected in NASA's astronaut class of 2000. Both have been to space twice before on space shuttle missions, with Hurley piloting the shuttle's final mission, of the Atlantis in 2011. And both are military veterans. Behnken served in the Air Force and Hurley in the Marine Corps.
Here's who they are.
Behnken is a native of Missouri who has flown more than 25 types of aircraft during his time in the Air Force.
He has logged 708 hours in space, on shuttle missions in 2008 and 2010. Additionally, during those missions Behnken took six spacewalks totaling over 37 hours.
For Demo-2, Behnken is the joint operations commander, which means he is responsible for tasks such as reaching the International Space Station and docking. Behnken told reporters that he's excited to begin running tests on how the capsule operates in space.
"We'll do some other housekeeping type things [too], we'll get out of our suits, maybe get something to eat," Behnken said of the planned trip to the space station.
Hurley hails from New York and came up through the Navy and then the Marines, logging over 5,500 hours in more than 25 different aircraft. He flew on two shuttle missions, in 2009 and 2011, and took several spacewalks during the first mission.
His wife, Karen Nyberg, is also an astronaut, who shared a special moment when their family got a close look at the Crew Dragon.
While Hurley said during a preflight briefing that the limited audience in Florida to watch the launch due to the coronavirus "certainly is disappointing," he noted that "it's the right thing to do in the current environment."
Hurley is the spacecraft commander and will be responsible for Crew Dragon's launch, landing and recovery.
The pair officially entered a preflight quarantine on May 13, although the astronauts said they've been self-isolating since mid-March. While astronauts typically enter a quarantine ahead of a mission, the protocol has been additionally strict for Demo-2 due to the coronavirus.
One of the key factors for launching remains the temperamental Florida weather. NASA and SpaceX continue to move forward with the launch as planned, with liftoff set for 4:33 p.m. ET Wednesday. Hours before the planned liftoff, the Air Force forecast a 50% probability of launch, given weather concerns, which include rain and thick clouds. If NASA and SpaceX decide to postpone the launch, the mission has back-up times set for Saturday at 3:22 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
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