Nasa’s newest test pilots are veteran astronauts

Updated 23 May 2020

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HAWTHORNE (US): Bob Behnkin, a Nasa astronaut, does training exercises in this California town.—AP
HAWTHORNE (US): Bob Behnkin, a Nasa astronaut, does training exercises in this California town.—AP

CAPE CANAVERAL: The two astronauts who will test drive SpaceXs brand new rocketship are classmates and friends, veteran spacefliers married to veteran spacefliers, and fathers of young sons.

Together, they will end a nine-year drought for Nasa when they blast into orbit next week from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

Retired Marine Col. Doug Hurley will be in charge of launch and landing, a fitting assignment for the pilot of Nasa’s last space shuttle flight.

Air Force Col. Bob Behnken, a mechanical engineer with six spacewalks on his resume, will oversee rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station.

Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, are Nasa’s first test pilot crew in decades.

“Its probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand new spaceship, and I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend,” Behnken said.

Their flight will mark the return of Nasa astronaut launches to the US, the first by a private company.

They’ve got Robert Crippens respect. Crippen and the late John Young rode Nasa’s first space shuttle, Columbia, into orbit on April 12, 1981. Their two-day flight was especially dangerous: It was the first launch of a shuttle, with no dry run in space in advance.

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.

So both Doug and Bob, I think, they’re brave gentlemen and I admire both of them,” Crippen said.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2020