NASA astronauts are strapped in for SpaceX rocket launch after giving farewell air hugs


NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have loaded into the cabin of Crew Dragon Capsule, following a social distancing farewell with their families.

The team was greeted by their wives and children at Launch Complex 39A, but unlike previous launches, were only allowed to send air hugs and blow kisses to their family due to the social distancing policy. 

After strapping in their seats, Behnken and Hurley completed a series of communications checks inside the capsule – all of which seemed to be working.

From inside the capsule, Hurley said they are ‘feeling great’ ahead of the launch.

SpaceX Elon Musk has accepted absolute responsibility if today’s historic launch SpaceX launch ends in tragedy, as the two NASA astronauts preparing to blast off in his Falcon 9 rocket arrived at Kennedy Space Center.

Musk told CBS This Morning: ‘I’m the chief engineer of this thing so I’d just like to say that if it goes right, it’s credit to the SpaceX-NASA team. If it goes wrong, it’s my fault.’  

Asked whether there was one thing about this afternoon’s launch that kept him up at night, he added: ‘There’s thousands of things that can go wrong and only one thing that can go right.’  

But he made sure to observe social distancing when visiting the the astronauts at Kennedy’s remodeled crew quarters, and stood well back while wearing a black face mask. 

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NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley loaded into the Crew Dragon Capsule, following a social distancing farewell with their families

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley loaded into the Crew Dragon Capsule, following a social distancing farewell with their families

The mission, dubbed ‘Launch America,’ will be the first time in nearly a decade NASA astronauts have lifted off US soil aboard an American made rocket. 

If all goes to plan, SpaceX will become the first private company to put astronauts into orbit, something achieved by just three countries – Russia, the US and China. 

Behnken and Hurley are in the cabin of the Crew Dragon as they gear up for the mission that will launch them to the International Space Station

Behnken and Hurley are in the cabin of the Crew Dragon as they gear up for the mission that will launch them to the International Space Station

The launch is just a few hours away and NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have arrived at Launch Complex 39A dressed in sleek one-piece tailor made space suits which have been designed specifically for use in the Dragon capsule. The pair was met by their families, who they could only 'air hug' due to the social distancing policy

The launch is just a few hours away and NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have arrived at Launch Complex 39A dressed in sleek one-piece tailor made space suits which have been designed specifically for use in the Dragon capsule. The pair was met by their families, who they could only ‘air hug’ due to the social distancing policy

Musk told CBS News about the intensity in the moment, saying: ‘I really kinda have to kind of mentally block it, because otherwise it would be emotionally impossible to deal with.’ 

Musk also praised the space fairing heroes this morning for their ‘nerves of steel.’

‘I was asking them just a few hours ago. I was like, ‘You guys feel good about this? You know, is there anything you want us to do?’ And they’re cool as a cucumber,’ he said.

NASA has discouraged spectators, citing the pandemic, and is limiting the number of visitors inside the space center.

It is against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis, that Trump will be hoping to lift America’s spirits by showing off the partnership between NASA and SpaceX – a monumental capitalist achievement.

The historic launch will be broadcasted live for the entire world to see and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that is where the general public should plan to watch astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken fly into space atop a SpaceX rocket. 

Behnken and Hurley, both veteran space travelers, arrived at the space center early Wednesday ahead of the mission.

With coffees in hand, the pair shook great each other and placed their own space decals on the windshield of a Tesla to commemorate the historical launch.

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley say goodbye to their families before heading to the Falcon 9

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley say goodbye to their families before heading to the Falcon 9

Due to social distancing rules, the team could only say their goodbyes at a distance

Due to social distancing rules, the team could only say their goodbyes at a distance

Musk paid a visit to astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley as they suited up in sleek one-piece tailor made space suits

Musk paid a visit to astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley as they suited up in sleek one-piece tailor made space suits 

The shiny white suit is jointly designed by Jose Fernandez, a costume designer known for his work on the Marvel series and Tron: Legacy, and Musk. The concept was then reverse engineered by SpaceX engineers

The shiny white suit is jointly designed by Jose Fernandez, a costume designer known for his work on the Marvel series and Tron: Legacy, and Musk. The concept was then reverse engineered by SpaceX engineers

These are IVA-type suits (intravehicular activity) meaning they are not suitable for use outside the capsule because they do not provide ample protection against stellar radiation, the extreme temperatures and lack of oxygen. For a suit to work on a space walk it must be able to withstand temperatures ranging from 250F to minus 250F, intense unobstructed stellar radiation, a total lack of oxygen and also a vacuum.

These are IVA-type suits (intravehicular activity) meaning they are not suitable for use outside the capsule because they do not provide ample protection against stellar radiation, the extreme temperatures and lack of oxygen. For a suit to work on a space walk it must be able to withstand temperatures ranging from 250F to minus 250F, intense unobstructed stellar radiation, a total lack of oxygen and also a vacuum.

The suits also provide the astronauts with their own custom air conditioning systems so they can stay cool or warm.

The suits also provide the astronauts with their own custom air conditioning systems so they can stay cool or warm.

Musk (left) greeted Behnken and Hurley before today's launch while wearing a mask and social distancing

Musk (left) greeted Behnken and Hurley before today’s launch while wearing a mask and social distancing 

Matt Damon, The Martian - 2015

The white parts of the suit are made out of a type of Teflon, similar to that applied to the outer layers of the Apollo space suits. The black parts of the suits are made from 'Nomex' a fire retardant fabric similar to Kevlar, which is what NASA's orange 'pumpkin suits' are fashioned from.

The SpaceX suits have been jointly designed by a Hollywood costume designer and by Musk himself (pictured: Matt Damon in 2015’s The Martian; and Behnken wearing the SpaceX suit, right)

They headed inside Kennedy’s remodeled crew quarters a few hours ago, which dates back to the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s, to strap on their suits and prepare for liftoff.

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SpaceX techs were shown helping the astronauts into their one-piece, two-layer pressure suits. 

The flight suits are IVA-type suits (intravehicular activity) meaning they are not suitable for use outside the capsule because they do not provide ample protection against stellar radiation, the extreme temperatures and lack of oxygen. 

A mannequin called ‘Starman’ (named after David Bowie’s song) wore the space suit during the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy cargo ship in February 2018. For the exhibition launch, the suit was not pressurized and carried no sensors. 

John Charles, president of the Space Medicine Association, told Live Science: ‘Without a life support system to supply pressurization and O2, as well as CO2 [carbon dioxide] removal, you’re not going to last long at all due to anoxia (lack of oxygen), hypercapnia (too much CO2) and ebullism (gas bubbles in the blood).’

For a suit to work on a space walk it must be able to withstand temperatures ranging from 250F to minus 250F, intense unobstructed stellar radiation, a total lack of oxygen and also a vacuum.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (right) and Douglas Hurley (left) have arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, bringing them one-step closer to making history. The pair were chauffeured into the facility by a white Tesla Model X with NASA stickers placed on the front doors and decals on the windshield form each of the space fairing heroes

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (right) and Douglas Hurley (left) have arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, bringing them one-step closer to making history. The pair were chauffeured into the facility by a white Tesla Model X with NASA stickers placed on the front doors and decals on the windshield form each of the space fairing heroes

Behnken and Hurley will walk across an access arm to board the Crew Dragon capsule atop Falcon 9 and at 4:33pm ET, the team will launch into space towards the International Space Station. The mission, dubbed ‘Launch America,’ will be the first time in nearly a decade NASA astronauts have lifted off US soil aboard an American made rocket

Behnken and Hurley will walk across an access arm to board the Crew Dragon capsule atop Falcon 9 and at 4:33pm ET, the team will launch into space towards the International Space Station. The mission, dubbed ‘Launch America,’ will be the first time in nearly a decade NASA astronauts have lifted off US soil aboard an American made rocket

Behnken and Hurley, both veteran space travelers, arrived at the space center early Wednesday ahead of the mission. With coffees in hand, the pair shook hands and placed their own space decals on the windshield of a Tesla to commemorate the historical launch

Behnken and Hurley, both veteran space travelers, arrived at the space center early Wednesday ahead of the mission. With coffees in hand, the pair shook hands and placed their own space decals on the windshield of a Tesla to commemorate the historical launch

The launch is a dream come true for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (left) who has named himself chief engineer of the mission and told CBS This Morning that 'if it goes wrong, its my fault.' Musk also commended Behnken and Hurley for having 'nerves of steel' ahead of the launch while speaking with CBS and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (right)

The launch is a dream come true for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (left) who has named himself chief engineer of the mission and told CBS This Morning that ‘if it goes wrong, its my fault.’ Musk also commended Behnken and Hurley for having ‘nerves of steel’ ahead of the launch while speaking with CBS and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (right)

Each of the astronauts placed their space decal on the windshield of the Tesla Model X

Each of the astronauts placed their space decal on the windshield of the Tesla Model X

Whilst it does not meet all of those criteria, the Starman suit can cope with a vacuum and can also protect the astronauts against rapid cabin depressurization through a tether at the thigh which has air and electronic connectors.

The suits also provide the astronauts with their own custom air conditioning systems so they can stay cool or warm.

The white parts of the suit are made out of a type of Teflon, similar to that applied to the outer layers of the Apollo space suits. The black parts of the suits are made from ‘Nomex’ a fire retardant fabric similar to Kevlar, which is what NASA’s orange ‘pumpkin suits’ are fashioned from.

The helmets, which are 3D-printed, connect to the rest of the suit using valves. Each astronaut will have a communications link through the helmet, which is fitted with a microphone and speakers, and they will be able to drop the visor using a single button on the side.

The gloves are specially designed to work with the touch screen control systems, although they can be detached from the rest of the one-piece suit for comfort.

The boots are part of the suit, but are made of a black material to give the appearance of traditional boots. Each suit is custom made for its astronaut.

They will soon head inside Kennedy's remodeled crew, which dates back to the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s, to strap on their suits and prepare for liftoff. The two were said to be 'as cool as cucumbers' when they arrived at the space center

They will soon head inside Kennedy’s remodeled crew, which dates back to the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s, to strap on their suits and prepare for liftoff. The two were said to be ‘as cool as cucumbers’ when they arrived at the space center

The pair's sleek one-piece tailor made suits that have been designed specifically for use in the Dragon capsule. These are IVA-type suits (intravehicular activity) meaning they are not suitable for use outside the capsule because they do not provide ample protection against stellar radiation, the extreme temperatures and lack of oxygen

The pair’s sleek one-piece tailor made suits that have been designed specifically for use in the Dragon capsule. These are IVA-type suits (intravehicular activity) meaning they are not suitable for use outside the capsule because they do not provide ample protection against stellar radiation, the extreme temperatures and lack of oxygen 

NASA’s equivalent of the Starman is the orange ‘pumpkin suit’ which is often seen in photos and officially referred to as the Advanced Crew Escape Space Suit System (ACES).

NASA’s IVA suit provides pressurization, emergency breathing apparatus, liquid cooling, automatic parachute and even rations of water. SpaceX has not revealed whether its suits are a match for, or go further than, the ACES.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is named after the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, the number 9 refers to the nine Merlin engines which power the first stage of its flight; with another Merlin vacuum engine powering the second stage.

The ship stands at nearly 230ft tall and burns cryogenic liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) to give it enough grunt to launch as much as 25 tons into a low orbit around Earth.

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‘We’re expecting a smooth ride but we’re expecting a loud ride,’ said Behnken, who, like Hurley, also flew in the shuttles twice.

When Falcon 9 heads into orbit, it will be traveling at speeds of 17,000 miles per hour.

Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will validate the performance of the craft by testing the environmental control system, displays, maneuvering thrusters and other technologies. 

SpaceX's Falcon 9 stands tall on Launch Complex 39A. The rocket will launch from US soil carrying two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station - a mission that has not taken placed in nine years

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 stands tall on Launch Complex 39A. The rocket will launch from US soil carrying two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station – a mission that has not taken placed in nine years

Falcon 9 generates just over 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage to limit acceleration as the rocket's mass decreases with the burning of fuel. The Falcon 9 then releases the lower section of the rocket called 'the booster,' using a fully-pneumatic system, as opposed to traditional pyrotechnic systems. The remaining single Merlin vacuum engine then delivers the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS. We

Falcon 9 generates just over 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage to limit acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel. The Falcon 9 then releases the lower section of the rocket called ‘the booster,’ using a fully-pneumatic system, as opposed to traditional pyrotechnic systems. The remaining single Merlin vacuum engine then delivers the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS. We

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule after its arrival to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule after its arrival to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida

Crew Dragon should be in position to dock with the ISS about 24 hours after takeoff and will connect to the ship autonomously.

After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be joined with the other members on the space station and become part of the Expedition 63 crew.

Kirk Shireman, manager, NASA International Space Station Program, said: ‘I think the on-orbit crew is definitely ready for some company, and very much looking forward to the launch this Wednesday.’

‘The ISS team is ready to support the docking of Crew Dragon.’

The astronauts will climb back into one of the Tesla vehicles for the nine-mile ride to Launch Complex 39A – the same pad used by the moonmen and most shuttle crews. Here they will say their goodbyes to their families for the last time before they enter the capsule. The pair completed their dress rehearsal (pictured) over the weekend

The astronauts will climb back into one of the Tesla vehicles for the nine-mile ride to Launch Complex 39A – the same pad used by the moonmen and most shuttle crews. Here they will say their goodbyes to their families for the last time before they enter the capsule. The pair completed their dress rehearsal (pictured) over the weekend

The launch, which is due to be watched by President Donald Trump, will be streamed live through NASA’s TV channel.

Trump will attend Kennedy with his family along with VP Mike Pence to watch the first manned flight from US soil in nine years, with the weather looking 60 percent favorable, despite earlier fears of thunderstorms.

Last week, the president joked with reporters at the White House: ‘I’m thinking about going. That will be next week. To the rocket launch. I hope you’re all going to join me … I’d like to put you in the rocket and get rid of you for awhile.’

The White House has portrayed the launch as an extension of Trump’s promise to reassert American dominance in space. The President signed a $738 billion defense spending bill back in December, officially marking the creation of the Space Force, a sixth branch of the armed forces which will be devoted to space operations.

‘Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security,’ Trump said in a statement. 

Pictured is the inner workings of the SpaceX Crew Dragon that will carry the NASA astronauts to the International Space Station

Pictured is the inner workings of the SpaceX Crew Dragon that will carry the NASA astronauts to the International Space Station  

The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, with its nose cone open to expose the docking mechanism, approaches the International Space Station's Harmony module in 2019

The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, with its nose cone open to expose the docking mechanism, approaches the International Space Station’s Harmony module in 2019

Trump has shown a keen interest in reinvigorating NASA, which he says was ‘dead as a door nail and now it’s very much alive.’

He proudly told a rally two years ago: ‘We are letting those rich guys that like rockets, go ahead, use our property, pay us some rent. Go ahead. You can use Cape Canaveral. You just pay us rent and spend that money.’  

While Trump may see this mission as somewhat of a payday, Musk views it as a lifetime achievement.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) was founded in 2002 by the Marijuana-smoking tycoon and gradually the 48-year-old has earned the trust of the planet’s largest space agency, NASA.

By 2012, SpaceX had become the first private company to dock a cargo capsule at the ISS, resupplying the station regularly ever since. It charges NASA $62 million for a standard Falcon 9 trip.

In 2014, NASA ordered the next step: to transport its astronauts there, starting in 2017, by adapting the Dragon capsule.

President Donald Trump gestures towards the U.S. Space Force flag during a presentation of the flag in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2020. He is expected to attend Kennedy with his family along with VP Mike Pence to watch the first manned flight from US soil in nine years

President Donald Trump gestures towards the U.S. Space Force flag during a presentation of the flag in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2020. He is expected to attend Kennedy with his family along with VP Mike Pence to watch the first manned flight from US soil in nine years

And today, the billionaire will watch his dream become a reality.

Musk said it is an ‘incredible honor’ to see his Falcon 9 rocket standing on the same Launchpad that sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon.

‘This is a dream come true. In fact, it feels surreal,’ he said.

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‘If you asked me when starting SpaceX if this would happen, I’d be like, 1% — 0.1% chance.’ 

Who are the SpaceX astronauts?

Doug Hurley, 53 and Bob Behnken, 49 are good friends, both are USAF trained pilots who achieved the rank of colonel and both joined NASA’s flight school in 2000.

They also both met their wives at NASA, both have one young son, and they have both been into space twice in NASA shuttles.

Marine Colonel Hurley’s wife Karen Nyberg also flew into space twice – once aboard the NASA shuttle and also the Russian Soyuz – before retiring this year. The Hurley’s have a 10-year-old son, Jack.

Air Force Colonel Behnken is married to Megan McArthur, who took part in the last mission to the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. They have a six-year-old son, Theo.

Behnken has two bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis and earned his masters in mechanical engineer in 1993 from the California Institute of Technology. He received a doctorate in mechanical engineering 1997.

Musk said it is an 'incredible honor' to see his Falcon 9 rocket standing on the same Launchpad that sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. 'This is a dream come true. In fact, it feels surreal,' he said. 'If you asked me when starting SpaceX if this would happen, I'd be like, 1% — 0.1% chance'

Musk said it is an ‘incredible honor’ to see his Falcon 9 rocket standing on the same Launchpad that sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. ‘This is a dream come true. In fact, it feels surreal,’ he said. ‘If you asked me when starting SpaceX if this would happen, I’d be like, 1% — 0.1% chance’

Behnken entered the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California after graduating. He was selected for NASA’s the astronaut corps in 2000 and made his first trip to space on the Endeavour shuttle as part of a mission to the ISS.

He flew on the Endeavour for another mission in 2010.

‘I’m really excited for this NASA and SpaceX mission to bring human spaceflight back to the Florida coast,’ he told a virtual media briefing earlier this month. ‘There’s a generation of people who maybe didn’t get a chance to see a space shuttle launch’, he added, and now they’re ‘getting a chance again to see human spaceflight in our own backyard.’

This October 2007 photo made available by NASA shows astronaut Bob Behnken in an Extravehicular Mobility Unit suit used for spacewalks

This Feb. 11, 2011 photo provided by NASA shows astronaut Douglas Hurley in a Launch Entry Suit used in space shuttle missions. (Bill Stafford/NASA via AP)

Bob Behnken in his NASA photo from 2007 and Doug Hurley (right) wearing his space suit in 2011

Hurley graduated from Tulane University in 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps and then headed to The Basic School in Virginia later that year.

He flew on three deployments to the western Pacific in 1991 and in 1997 went to the US Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland.

He trained at NASA in 2000 and would go onto lead support teams from the ground for space missions. In 2009, he made his first journey to space on the Endeavor.

For the SpaceX mission he is serving as the commander. ‘It’s a great honor to be a part of this mission,’ Hurley said.

 Why is the US going private?

‘SpaceX would not be here without NASA,’ said Musk last year, after a successful dress rehearsal without humans for the trip to the ISS.

The space agency paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable capsule for six future space round trips. SpaceX has made its own contributions in excess of $500 million.

The development has experienced delays, explosions, and parachute problems – but even so SpaceX has beaten the aviation giant Boeing to the punch. NASA is also paying Boeing to build its own capsule, the Starliner, which is still not ready.

The move by NASA to invest in privately-developed spacecraft – a more economic proposition than spending tens of billions of dollars developing such systems itself, as it had done for decades – was started under the presidency of George W. Bush for cargo, and later under Barack Obama for human flight.

‘Some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree,’ Obama said in 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center.

At the time, there was immense hostility in Congress and NASA to the start-up’s claims of what it could achieve.

A decade on it is another president, Trump, who will attend Wednesday’s launch in Florida.

The Republican is trying to reaffirm American domination of space, militarily but also by having ordered a return to the Moon in 2024.

If NASA could entrust ‘low Earth orbit’ space travel to the private sector, it would free up dollars for its more distant missions.

‘We envision a future where low Earth orbit is entirely commercialized where NASA is one customer of many customers,’ said Jim Bridenstine, the agency’s administrator.

‘If we keep using American taxpayer dollars … we’ll never get to the Moon and on to Mars.’

If Crew Dragon fulfils its mission and is certified safe, it will mean the Americans will no longer depend on the Russians for access to space: since 2011, the Russian Soyuz rockets were the only space taxis available.

Launches will become a regular occurrence in Florida again, with four astronauts aboard.

A Japanese astronaut is set to be on the following trip. NASA would like a Russian cosmonaut to join next.



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