1 big thing: The astronauts bringing spaceflight back to the U.S.
Two people — NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — are about to risk their lives in the name of bringing human spaceflight back to the U.S. for the first time since 2011.
Why it matters: The first crewed SpaceX launch on May 27 is a huge moment for NASA and the U.S. as a whole. When the final test launch takes off, Hurley and Behnken are the ones taking on most of the immediate risk in this historic moment.
What's happening: The two astronauts are set to take flight from Florida aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon, marking the first time the company has attempted to launch people and the first crewed launch from the U.S. since the end of the space shuttle program.
- The loss of crew probability should be no more than 1 in 270 flights of the system, per the requirements NASA set as part of the Commercial Crew program.
- While SpaceX and NASA have done a number of tests over the years to prove out all of the systems of the spacecraft, flying on the first crewed flight of a brand new ship is inherently risky.
Details: For two years, the astronauts have been the go-between with NASA and SpaceX as both the agency and company worked to get the Crew Dragon system ready to fly people.
- Behnken and Hurley contributed to testing and general development of the system, telling SpaceX how astronauts feel about the way the craft operates.
- It wasn't always smooth sailing. Behnken and Hurley had to walk the fine line between two masters that didn't necessarily always agree.
- "It could be that really the company just wants to do it their way, for example, and we'd need to figure out whether or not that can be used to accomplish the mission," Behnken told Axios earlier this month.
- Behnken added that their goal was to get to a compromise that would work for the company and agency.
Background: Both Behnken and Hurley are veteran astronauts, with multiple space shuttle flights under their belts.
- The two former military test pilots were selected to become NASA astronauts as part of the space agency's 2000 class.
- Hurley was also part of the crew of the final space shuttle flight.
- Both will leave families on Earth in the midst of the pandemic.
"In some sense, to try to manage the pandemic is to do all the right things that we can technically, but at the same time, avoid it becoming a distraction from our mission preparation," Behnken told Axios.
Their families likely understand the risks of the astronauts' job better than most: Behnken and Hurley — who both have young children — are married to fellow astronauts.
What to watch: The flight Behnken and Hurley are launching on next week is SpaceX's final test before beginning regular missions to the space station.
- “This is a big day for NASA and a big day for SpaceX, but we should not lose sight of the fact that this is a test flight,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a press conference this month. “We’re doing this to learn things.”