- SpaceX is gearing up to win a flag-raising game as astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley prepare to return to Earth this weekend.
- President Barack Obama launched the competition nine years ago, when his administration funded a public-private partnership program in which NASA would work with companies to send people into space.
- SpaceX defeated the other company in the competition, Boeing, in its first crew launch.
- The American flag flew on the first spacecraft and has been stationed at the International Space Station since the ships stopped being launched in 2011, waiting for the ship’s first commercial crew to claim it.
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When NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley return to Earth on SpaceX̵7;s Space Crew Dragon spacecraft, they will carry an American flag with a symbolism even more than usual.
The trophy in question is a flag that flew on the spacecraft’s first mission. She was left on the ISS by the crew of the final flight of NASA spacecraft in 2011, of which Hurley was a member. The idea was that future astronauts to launch an American spacecraft from American soil would return the flag to Earth.
But at the time, it was still unclear which company would get there first, or which astronauts would be selected for that mission.
“I understand it will be like a moment of catching the flag here for flying in commercial space. So good luck to anyone who catches that flag,” President Barack Obama said in a phone call with Hurley and his colleagues in 2011. .
SpaceX launched Behnken and Hurley toward the International Space Station in May, marking the first time humans have ever flown a commercial spacecraft into orbit. They boarded the ISS, then climbed through the lid to the football-sized floating lab.
At that point, they put Elon Musk’s rocket company on the verge of winning the nine-year flag-catching game.
Shortly afterwards, Hurley held the flag up to NASA live broadcast cameras alongside Behnken and astronaut Chris Cassidy.
“Chris was right on the lid, where we left him nine years ago,” Hurley said. “He has a note: ‘Remember to get on with Dragon Crew.'”
—NASA (@NASA) June 1, 2020
Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to dive from the space station at 7:34 pm ET on Saturday, then embark on a fiery, high-speed journey through the Earth’s atmosphere. Assuming everything goes according to plan, they will be sprayed Sunday at 2:42 p.m., off the coast of Florida. At that point, SpaceX will have successfully captured the flag. You can check out NASA’s live coverage of the return flight here.
“The race is not over until it is over,” Behnken told reporters before the start of May.
The first commercial space in the world
The Demo-2 mission is a product of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership that President Barack Obama launched in 2011. The goal was to restore the U.S. ability to launch its astronauts into space. Upon completion of the spacecraft program.
Both SpaceX and Boeing did it through rigorous reviews and testing required by NASA. The space agency has contributed more than $ 3.1 billion in funding to SpaceX in its nearly decade-long partnership. Boeing has received about $ 4.8 billion in contracts. But the software issues ruined the immature Boeing test flight to the space station, prompting a series of required reviews and a new mission to do before the company could launch the astronauts.
So SpaceX realized its first creepy flight first.
If all goes well this weekend, NASA hopes to regularly pull astronauts to and from the station at Dragon Crew.
“We are really focused on ensuring that we … fulfill the ultimate mission, which is not winning against Boeing. It is providing this capability to the International Space Station, so that we can start rotating crews from American soil,” he said. said Behnken earlier the May launch.
For Hurley, the flag symbolizes that long journey and the new dawn era of commercial space.
“You can bet we’ll take it with us when we go back to Earth,” Hurley said as he introduced the flag. “The important point is, as I said before, just the return of the launch capability to the United States to and from the International Space Station. That is what this flag really means.”
Susie Neilson contributed reporting for this story.
This story has been updated with new information. Originally published on June 2, 2020.
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