(AP) When the last space shuttle Atlantis blasted off for the final time from Cape Canaveral on 8 July 2011, it was piloted by NASA astronaut Doug Hurley.
Now nearly a decade later Hurley is one of two test pilots for SpaceX’s brand-new rocket ship, which is due to launch on May 27.
The test pilots, NASA astronauts Retired Marine Col. Doug Hurley and Air Force Col. Bob Behnken are classmates, friends, veteran space fliers married to veteran space fliers and fathers of young sons.
They’ll soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the shuttle program in 2011, the last home launch for NASA astronauts.
Since then, the only way to the space station for astronauts has been on Russian rockets launched from Kazakhstan. Hurley will be in charge of launch and landing, a fitting assignment for the pilot of NASA’s last space shuttle flight.
Behnken, a mechanical engineer with six spacewalks on his resume, will oversee rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station (ISS).
Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, are NASA’s first test pilot crew in decades.
Hurley and Behnken are married to fellow members of their 2000 astronaut class at NASA: newly retired Karen Nyberg and Megan McArthur. Each couple has one son, ages ten and six.
While SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule and its escape system have already been demonstrated in flight – with mannequins – there are no guarantees. In spaceflight, there never are.
“I think there are just so many technical factors and things that we need to focus on to make sure that we pull this off, that our place in history or even trying to put our names in the same sentences as the folks who have come before us is, it seems premature until we’ve pulled it off,” says Behnken.
Their flight will mark the return of astronaut launches to the U.S., the first by a private company.