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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (front). Photo: SpaceX

Two people — NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken — are about to risk their lives in the name of bringing human spaceflight back to the U.S.

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 in 2011.

  • Behnken and Hurley are now in quarantine before launching to the International Space Station to protect them from contracting coronavirus or other illnesses.
  • 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 main 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.

  • Hurley's wife, NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, was also part of the 2000 astronaut class before her retirement from NASA earlier this year. Nyberg has spent 180 days in space, including a long-duration mission on the space station.
  • Behnken is married to astronaut K. Megan McArthur, who was also selected as an astronaut in 2000. McArthur spent about 13 days in space on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

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,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a press conference this month. “But we should not lose sight of the fact that this is a test flight. We’re doing this to learn things.”

Go deeper: Spectators urged to stay home during historic space launch

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 11, 2020 - Science

SpaceX and ULA pull in huge defense contracts

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes flight. Photo: SpaceX

The Space Force's announcement last week that United Launch Alliance and SpaceX will launch expensive spy satellites and other military payloads brings a long and often fierce battle for government funds to an end — at least for now.

Why it matters: This type of government money — particularly in light of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic — is key for space companies that often work on thin margins.

Updated 14 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump, per AZCentral.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of Trump loyalist Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Education: Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong puts tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge — Pfizer to supply 40 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries — Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca vaccine.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.