On May 30, the couple became the first NASA astronaut to launch a commercial rocket to the station, driving vehicles manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and not NASA.
A day after taking off from the Kennedy Space Center, their dragon spaceships, which they called Endeavor, docked autonomously to the station, and the duo was greeted on the station by NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner .
The trip marked the end of a long fallow period of launches for NASA, which had not flown people from US soil since 201
“The highlight for Doug and me was certainly the first arrival on the space station, which came back through the hatch after several years of working on a new spacecraft and was on board,” said Behnken in an interview with the station this week.
Since then he has made two spacewalks with Cassidy, successfully replacing the batteries on the outside of the station. During the spacewalk, they could see the Dragon spaceship docked at the station, and Cassidy turned and took a picture.
“It was just fantastic to be able to look back and take a picture and I think we have a good picture in daylight,” said Behnken.
Hurley has spent quite a bit of time in the station’s dome, a small dome with six windows that offers some of the best views. While the station orbits the earth every 90 minutes and drives 2700 km / h, he has taken breathtaking pictures from around the world and published them on his Twitter account.
And then on Thursday he released a picture of the earth that went from day to night, one half dark, the other bright. It’s a peaceful picture without reference to the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic or the social unrest after George Floyd’s death during political detention.
“Look at the atmosphere!” Twittered Hurley’s wife Karen Nyberg, a retired NASA astronaut. “It’s such a beautiful blue and so thin. @Astro_Doug took some beautiful pictures of the earth from @Space_Station. They remind me that this amazing home belongs to all of us together. “
“A new era of American ambition has just started,” he said. “Those of us who saw the spectacular and unforgettable start this afternoon saw more than one act of history. We have seen an act of heroism. “
The Trump campaign wanted to take advantage of the launch with an ad titled “Make Space Great Again”. However, the ad was quickly criticized by Democrats, who pointed out that NASA’s Commercial Crew program – hiring private companies to fly their astronauts – began under President Barack Obama. Others said it violated NASA rules prohibiting the agency from supporting “a commercial product, service, or activity.”
Nyberg, who was featured on the ad with her son, said on Twitter that she “found it worrying that a video image of me and my son would be used in political propaganda without my knowledge or consent. That is wrong. “
Now NASA and the astronauts are concentrating on the return journey. At the moment, the space agency says Behnken and Hurley could return on August 2nd. If all went well, the dragon would undock from the station, fire its engines, and descend through the atmosphere.
The entire mission is a test to see how the SpaceX Dragon capsule works, and although NASA said the climb went smoothly, there are still many risks ahead.
When immersed, the thickening air causes friction and generates enormous heat, which tests the capsule’s heat shield. Then the parachutes of the spacecraft are to be used to slow the vehicle further. However, SpaceX has struggled with its parachute designs in the past.
“Parachutes are much more difficult than they look,” Musk said in an interview with The Post before the start. “The Apollo program actually had a real moral problem with the parachutes because they were so damn hard. They had people thinking about how hard the parachutes were. And then you know, we almost had people who stopped at SpaceX how hard the parachutes were. I mean, they got through, but the parachutes are tough. “
Another risk will be landing in the ocean. American astronauts have not been splashed into the water since 1975 – the spacecraft landed on land, as did the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Behnken said he and Hurley were expected to spend about an hour on the surface of the ocean before being hoisted onto the deck of a ship. SpaceX has trained extensively for the salvage mission to get the astronauts to safety as quickly as possible. However, this will also be an important test.
“I wouldn’t call it nervousness,” said Behnken. “But one of the areas that both Doug and I really need to make sure we’re prepared for is that we will end up in this capsule a little longer during this recovery operation if something doesn’t go as smoothly as expected. ”
He added: “We have to be ahead both physically and mentally.”