Astronauts head to Florida for historic launch to space station

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (L) and Doug Hurley are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on a SpaceX rocket on May 27. Photo courtesy of NASA

ORLANDO, Fla., May 20 (UPI) — NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are scheduled to arrive at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday to prepare for the historic return of crewed launches from U.S. soil.

Behnken and Hurley, who both flew two previous space shuttle missions, are scheduled for a May 27 launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station.

It will be the first time NASA astronauts launch from U.S. soil since the last shuttle mission in 2011. The United States has purchased seats on Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Kazakhstan since then.

The launch, set for 4:33 p.m., will also be the first time people have flown inside the Crew Dragon capsule made by Elon’s Musk’s SpaceX. It is due to arrive at the space station on Thursday.

Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, have been astronauts since their selection in 2000. They worked closely with SpaceX to develop the new spacecraft systems.

Behnken recently thanked his neighbors in the Houston area for posting countdown signs and positive messages about the launch. He posted on Twitter: “My neighborhood has a long history of @NASA_Astronauts as residents and finds a special way to take part in each mission.”

The two astronauts are in a quarantine period, which is standard for any spaceflight. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NASA has requested that spectators not travel to Florida to see the launch, and access to the space center is restricted to essential personnel only.

The launch and much of the trip will be shown live on NASA TV and streamed online.

Behnken holds the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force and was a former chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office.

Hailing from the St. Louis, Mo., area Behnken flew space shuttle missions STS-123 in 2008 and STS-130 in 2010, logging more than 37 hours during six spacewalks.

Behnken holds a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology. He is married to fellow astronaut K. Meghan Arthur, and they have one child.

Hurley holds the rank of colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. Before joining NASA, he was a fighter pilot and test pilot, having been the first Marine pilot to fly the F/A‐18 E/F Super Hornet.

Hurley was the pilot on space shuttle missions STS‐127 in 2009 and the final shuttle mission, STS‐135, in 2011.

Hurley grew up in Apalachin, N.Y., and holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tulane University. He is married to astronaut Karen Nyberg, and they have one child.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (L) and Bob Behnken stand near Launch Pad 39A during a dress rehearsal ahead of the SpaceX uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on January 17. In the background, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket is topped by the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The flight test will demonstrate the spacecraft’s escape capabilities in preparation for crewed flights to the International Space Station. Photo by Kim Shiflett/NASA

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