Two former NASA astronauts and military test pilots were awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor yesterday during an event at the White House.

Robert Behnken, a retired Air Force colonel, and Douglas Hurley, a retired Marine colonel, were presented the awards by Vice President Kamala Harris.

“Bob and Doug, together, have written the first page of a new chapter in the history of American space flight,” Harris, who chairs the National Space Council, said during the ceremony.

The decorations were awarded “for bravery in NASA’s SpaceX Demonstration Mission-2 (Demo-2) to the International Space Station in 2020,” according to a NASA news release.

The pair piloted the first manned mission to the space station in nearly a decade when they launched a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to the space station on May 30, 2020. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program has sent five manned missions to the space station, the most recent of which launched last October.

Both former military pilots, Hurley, 56, and Behnken, 52, were selected by NASA in 2000 and announced as members of the commercial crew program in 2015. The two have each participated in three space flights, and during their extensive military careers have each flown more than 25 different types of aircraft, according to their NASA bios.

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Pad 39-A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020.

The Congressional Space Medal of Honor, created by Congress in 1969, is given “to any astronaut who in the performance of his [or her] duties has distinguished himself [or herself] by exceptionalIy meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the [n]ation and of mankind,” according to NASA. It has now been awarded to 30 people, including those who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster 20 years ago today.

The last individual to receive the prestigious honor was retired Navy Capt. Robert Crippen, who earned the medal in 2006 for piloting the first space shuttle mission.

NASA’s next crewed space flight, which will include retired Navy Capt. Stephen Bowen, is planned for Feb. 26 at the earliest, the agency said in a release.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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