Former NASA astronauts awarded Congressional Space Medal of Honor for SpaceX Demo-2 mission
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Former NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor Tuesday, presented by Vice President Kamala Harris on behalf of President Biden at a ceremony held in Washington, D.C.
Hurley and Behnken received the honor "for bravery in NASA’s SpaceX Demonstration Mission-2 (Demo-2) to the International Space Station in 2020," according to a release by NASA.
The pair were the first astronauts to fly a crewed mission to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule in May 2020 following the retirement of NASA's space shuttle and a nearly decade-long absence of astronaut-launching capability from U.S. soil.
"On the hills and sand dunes of Cape Canaveral and living rooms, dorm rooms, and classrooms across our nation, we watched Bob and Doug's rocket rise from the launchpad," Harris said during the awards presentation. "For the first time in almost a decade, we witnessed American astronauts launch an American rocket from American soil and for the first time in history, we saw astronauts reach orbit in a capsule built and launched by the private sector."
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Both veteran astronauts joined NASA in 2000, having each separately flown two space shuttle missions and once aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon together. Throughout their NASA careers, each accumulated a total of 93 days in space.
Hurley was a colonel with the U.S. Marine Corps, having served as a fighter pilot and test pilot before his time with NASA. During NASA's STS-135 mission, Hurley piloted the space shuttle Atlantis home for the final time landing at Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011, concluding three decades of NASA's space shuttle program.
Similarly, before completing ten spacewalks during his career as an astronaut, Behnken was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, having served as a flight test engineer.
The Congressional Space Medal of Honor authorizes the president, at the recommendation of the NASA Administrator, to recognize "any astronaut who in the performance of his duties has distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and of mankind," according to NASA.
The creation of the award was authorized by Congress in 1969 and first awarded by President Jimmy Carter to six astronauts in 1978, including Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission.
"Bob and Doug together have written the first page of a new chapter in the history of American space flight," said Harris. "Through their ingenuity and bravery, they have helped rebuild America's bridge to low Earth orbit and to the International Space Station, where we conduct some of our most significant and advanced scientific research."
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Hurley and Behnken join a recipient list of only 28 other astronauts, including 17 of which who received the award posthumously. The honor was last awarded in 2006 to former NASA astronaut and director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center Robert L. Crippen.
"Together, Bob, Doug, and the SpaceX team worked for years to design a new crew capsule, aptly named The Crew Dragon. Every part of the capsule, from flight controls and emergency procedures to computer displays and cockpit layout, shaped by Bob and Doug's decades of know-how," said Harris.
"Once the capsule was built, Bob and Doug spent hundreds of hours testing thousands of flight scenarios," Harris said. "They understood the stakes of their work for our nation, for our world, and, importantly, for the astronauts who would one day entrust their lives to the Dragon capsule."
Since Hurley and Behnken's Demo-2 mission, five SpaceX missions have carried 20 astronauts from NASA and other international space agencies to and from the ISS. The next, Crew-6, is set to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday, February 26, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Jamie Groh is a space reporter for Florida Today. You can contact her at JGroh@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlteredJamie.
Congressional Space Medal of Honor Awardees
Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr.
John H. Glenn, Jr.
Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom*
Alan B. Shepard
John W. Young
Thomas P. Stafford
James A. Lovell
Shannon W. Lucid
Roger B. Chaffee*
Edward H. White, II*
William M. Shepherd
Rick D. Husband*
William C. McCool *
Michael P. Anderson*
David M. Brown*
Laurel B. Clark*
Ilan Ramon *
Francis R. (Dick) Scobee*
Michael J. Smith*
Judith A. Resnik *
Ronald E. McNair *
Ellison S. Onizuka*
Gregory B. Jarvis*
Sharon Christa McAuliffe*
Robert L. Crippen
Douglas G. Hurley
Robert L. Behnken
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Congressional Space Medal of Honor awarded to former NASA astronauts