Update: Launch scrubbed over weather concerns. Next attempt will be 3:22 p.m. Saturday.
Former military test pilots and now NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are set to launch the new SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft this afternoon and complete a trip to International Space Station, ending the nearly decade-long pause in sending astronauts from U.S. soil to the space station.
The men, who served respectively in the Marine Corps and the Air Force, are scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday afternoon at 4:33 p.m. EDT so long as weather cooperates. The historic flight also will mark the first time the spacecraft will complete a crewed flight, after the spacecraft successfully completed an unmanned trip to International Space Station in March 2019.
“We’re launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. We haven’t done this really since 2011, so this is a unique moment in time,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told The Associated Press.
“Bob and Doug are cool as cucumbers," he said. "They are absolutely itching to go fly. So these are the best that America has to offer and, yes, it is emotional for me because a lot is riding on this.”
Both men have a lot in common — including serving in the military as test pilots, according to their NASA biographies. Behnken, a colonel in the Air Force from Missouri, first commissioned in 1992 after graduating from Washington University and later attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He subsequently was assigned to the F-22 Combined Test Force, racking up more than 1,500 flight hours in more than 25 different aircraft.
Hurley, originally from Apalachin, New York, was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 1988 after graduating from Tulane University. He completed three overseas deployments with the Marine All Weather Fighter/Attack Squadron 225 before heading to the United States Naval Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. He later was assigned to the Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron (VX‐23) as an F/A‐18 Project Officer and Test Pilot — becoming the first Marine pilot to fly the F/A‐18 E/F Super Hornet.
Hurley retired from the Marine Corps in 2012 as a colonel, following a 24-year career in the service where he logged more than 5,500 flight hours in more than 25 different aircraft.
For the first time in nearly a decade, U.S. astronauts are about to blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil. And for the first time in the history of human spaceflight, a private company is running the show.
Both Behnken and Hurley were tapped to become NASA astronauts in 2000 — and since then have developed a strong friendship to the point where they can anticipate the other’s actions and reactions ahead of time.
“One of the things that’s really helpful for us as a crew is the long relationship that Doug and I have had,” Behnken told reporters this month, according to the New York Times.
“We’re kind of at the point in our experience — whether it’s flying in the T-38 or executing in a SpaceX simulation or approaching and docking to the International Space Station — where we, in addition to finishing each other’s sentences, we can predict, you know, almost by body language, what the person’s opinion is or what they’re going to do, what their next action is going to be,” Behnken said.
This won’t be the first time in space for either Behnken or Hurley — each have previously participated in two shuttle missions.
Behnken participated in shuttle mission STS-123 in 2008, which lasted nearly 16 days and accomplished 250 orbits of Earth, and STS-130 in 2010, which lasted almost 14 days and completed more than 200 orbits of Earth.
Likewise, Hurley participated in shuttle mission STS‐127 in 2009, which lasted nearly 16 days and accomplished nearly 250 orbits of Earth, and STS‐135 in 2011, which lasted nearly 13 days and accomplished 200 orbits of Earth.
President Donald Trump arrived in Florida Wednesday afternoon to witness the launch, and is also scheduled to participate in a NASA Crew Quarters Tour and a Orion Capsules Tour before the space launch. Trump is also slated to deliver remarks at the Kennedy Space Center at 6 p.m.
Liftoff for the SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 is scheduled for 4:33 p.m. on May 27. Watch it happen here.