CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — They're here! Just one week out from blastoff, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have arrived in Florida to launch to the International Space Station on May 27.
Behnken and Hurley, who are both veterans of two Space Shuttle flights and have spent between 680-700 hours in space apiece, landed at the Kennedy Space Center in preparation to strap in for their next mission.
The spacecraft making its way to the center just five days prior to the astronauts from a processing facility at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The duo flew in from their home base at Johnson Space Center in Texas.
Their team back at home sent its "hometown heroes" off with a farewell into a new era of in-human spaceflight on Twitter saying, "We are with you every step of the way. Safe travels and Godspeed!"
Behnken and Hurley will board a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A as a part of the Demo-2 mission.
Liftoff for the May 27 launch is expected around 4:33 p.m. EDT.
This will be the first crewed launch of astronauts from the U.S. since the end of the Space Shuttle era in 2011. Since then, NASA has relied on the Russian space program for missions to the ISS.
Once at the ISS, the pair will stay and work for approximately one to four months before returning to Earth.
As the duo landed at Kennedy Space Center, the greeting with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and KSC Director Bob Cabana felt a little different due to COVID-19 precautions.
The group waved to each other and gave thumbs-up as Behnken and Hurley stepped off the plane. Both Bridenstine and Cabana wearing masks.
Hurley can be heard saying, "I wish I could shake hands," while making sure to keep a distance.
Their arrival marks the first time in nearly nine years when, on July 4, 2011, the last crew flew into the shuttle landing facility on their way to space.
"This is a whole new way of sending people to space; the Commercial Crew Program. This really is monumental," Cabana said. "I consider all the things that we're doing and it's amazing, it's absolutely amazing."
It's a program Bridenstine echoed the importance of.
"We are on the cusp of launching American astronauts, on American rockets, from American soil yet again," Bridenstine said. "This time, we are doing it differently than we've ever done it before," he continued, referencing NASA's Commercial Crew Program that works with commercial industries to purchase, own and operate the hardware for launches like May 27 mission.
But that isn't the only historic marker the Crew Dragon Demo-2 launch has met.
Behnken and Hurley's launch will mark the fifth time in American history that American astronauts have been launched on a brand new vehicle. Other missions included Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttles.
"It's these gentlemen that are going to have the opportunity to pioneer once more for the United States of America in what is this new era of human space flight," Bridenstine said.
It was a moment not lost on both Behnken and Hurley saying they were excited about the incredible honor, highlighting that this is an "awesome time" to be an astronaut.
The pair is also no stranger to the Kennedy Space Center. Both Hurley and Behnken started their first astronaut jobs at the Sunshine State's complex, working to help launch shuttles into space.
Hurley said of the center: "This a very, very special place for us. It's almost like a home away from home."
What's next for the duo? They will get the chance to put their spacesuits on, to strap into the capsule, walkthrough the pre-launch timeline and then head into the "big show" on May 27.
The two will get a chance to see their families ahead of the launch, as they have been abiding by a "tight" quarantine to make it work. The pandemic caused the astronauts and crews working on the project to adjust to a major shift in approach to continue work and training.
That amazed Hurley.
"It was challenging because we were at that phase the last year year and a half where we were traveling to SpaceX every week," Hurley said. "We had to come up with ways to make sure that not only did we keep the teams we were working with safe, but obviously ourselves safe, and our families."
To commemorate the launch, Behnken and his family planted a lemon tree while the pair put a Demo-2 sticker on the SpaceX simulator after their final proficiency simulation.
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