TopVet: Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley
Two military men made history last week with a rather unique mission: flying into space on the SpaceX Crew Dragon. NASA astronauts Air Force Col. Robert L. Behnken and retired Marine Corps Col. Douglas G. Hurley launched into space on May 30 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This was the first time ever that NASA astronauts launched from American soil in a commercially built and operated American crew spacecraft.
"Now, these brave and selfless astronauts will continue their mission to advance the cause of human knowledge as they proceed to the International Space Station before returning to Earth," President Trump said after takeoff. "We wish them Godspeed on their journey, and as one proud nation, we salute their fearless service."
Both men were selected as astronauts in 2000 and have completed two previous spaceflights – but before their careers took them into orbit, they each served in the military.
Colonel Robert Louis Behnken was commissioned via the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while at Washington University in St. Louis, close to his hometown of St. Ann, MO. His first assignment was at Eglin Air Force Base, managing and developing new weapon systems. From there he attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. Later he was assigned to the F-22 Combined Test Force (CTF) where he served as the lead Flight Test Engineer for the 4th F-22. He has flown more than 1,500 flight hours in more than 25 different types of aircrafts.
Behnken holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from California Institute of Technology. Among his accomplishments, he was awarded the United States Air Force Meritorious Service, Defense Meritorious Service and Defense Superior Service Medals.
He is the joint operations commander for the current mission in space, responsible for activities like docking and undocking, as well as work while the spacecraft is docked to the space station.
Behnken’s partner on board is Douglas Hurley, the spacecraft commander who is responsible for launch, landing and recovery.
“One of the things that’s really helpful for us as a crew is the long relationship that Doug and I have had,” Behnken said this month during rounds of interviews with reporters. “We’re kind of at the point in our experience where we, in addition to finishing each other’s sentences, we can predict, 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.” Both men married other astronauts of their class and came from a military background.
Hurley is a retired Marine Corps Colonel with a career spanning 24 years of service as a fighter pilot and test pilot. Raised in Apalachin, NY, he earned a BSE in Civil Engineering from Tulane University, where he also received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was designated a Naval Aviator after two years of flight training. Upon completion of initial F/A-18 training, he was assigned to Marine All Weather Fighter/Attack Squadron 225. He made three overseas deployments to the Western Pacific. Hurley was then selected to attend the United States Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
The pair successfully landed at the International Space Station on May 31, where they were welcomed as crew members of Expedition 63. This trip is an end-to-end test to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. It will pave the way for NASA’s certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of the Commercial Crew Program. Now that they’ve arrived, they will conduct numerous tests of the aircraft’s capabilities.
When it’s time to head back home, Behnken and Hurley will board Crew Dragon, which will then autonomously undock, depart the space station, and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. They’ll land off of Florida’s Atlantic coast and will be picked up by the SpaceX recovery ship. From there they’ll return to the dock at Cape Canaveral.
“This represents a transition in how we do spaceflight from the United States of America. NASA is not going to purchase, own and operate rockets and capsules the way we used to; we’re going to partner with commercial industry,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said from the floor of Mission Control in Houston.
He told the astronauts, “The whole world saw this mission, and we are so, so proud of everything you’ve done for our country and, in fact, to inspire the world."