- SpaceX is ready to win a high-stakes game to catch the flag as astronauts Bob Benken and Doug Hurley prepare to return to Earth this weekend.
- President Barack Obama began the race 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 beat the other company in the competition, Boeing, until its first crew release.
- The US flag flew on the first space shuttle and remained on the International Space Station after the shuttles stopped launching in 2011, waiting for the first commercial space crew to declare it.
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When NASA astronauts Bob Benken and Doug Hurley return to Earth on SpaceX̵
The trophy in question is a flag that flies on the first space shuttle mission. It was left on the ISS by the crew of the last NASA space shuttle flight in 2011, of which Hurley was a member. The idea was for the next astronauts to launch an American spacecraft from American land to return the flag to Earth.
But at the time, it was still unclear which company would arrive first or which astronauts would be selected for the mission.
“I understand that this will be something like a moment to capture the flag here for a commercial space flight. So lucky for anyone who picks up that flag,” President Barack Obama said by phone with Hurley and his colleagues in 2011.
SpaceX launched Benken and Hurley to the International Space Station in May, marking the first time humans have launched a commercial spacecraft into orbit. They arrived at the ISS, then climbed through a hatch in a floating football-sized lab.
At this point, they put Elon Musk’s missile company on top of winning the nine-year flag-catching game.
Shortly afterwards, Hurley held the flag to NASA cameras live next to Benken and astronaut Chris Cassidy.
“Chris had it right on the hatch where we left it nine years ago,” Hurley said. “He has a note: ‘Be sure to take with Crew Dragon. “
—NASA (@NASA) June 1, 2020
Benken and Hurley are scheduled to return from the space station at 7:34 p.m. ET on Saturday, followed by a fiery, high-speed journey through the Earth’s atmosphere. Assuming everything goes according to plan, they will flood on Sunday at 2:42 p.m., off the coast of Florida. At this point, SpaceX will successfully capture the flag. You can watch NASA’s live coverage of the return flight here.
“The race is not over until it is over,” Benken told reporters before the start in May.
The world’s first commercial space flight
The Demo-2 mission is a product of NASA’s Commercial Teams Program, a public-private partnership launched by President Barack Obama in 2011. The goal was to restore the United States’ ability to launch its own astronauts into space after the space shuttle program ended.
Both SpaceX and Boeing did so through the rigorous inspections and tests required by NASA. The space agency has provided more than $ 3.1 billion in funding to SpaceX in a nearly ten-year partnership. Boeing received about $ 4.8 billion in contracts. But software problems plagued Boeing’s uncovered test flight to the space station, prompting a series of necessary inspections and an upcoming rerun mission before the company could launch astronauts.
So SpaceX made its first flight for the crew first.
If all goes well this weekend, NASA hopes to drive astronauts to and from Crew Dragon Station on a regular basis.
“We are really focused on ensuring that … we carry out the supreme mission that does not win against Boeing. It provides this capability to the International Space Station so that we can start rotating crews from American soil,” Benken said before the launch. In May.
For Hurley, the flag symbolizes that long journey and the new era of commercial space flight.
“You can bet we’ll take it with us when we dig back to Earth,” Hurley said as he presented the flag. “The important point is, as I said before, just the return of the ability to launch in the United States to and from the International Space Station. That’s what this flag actually means.”
Susie Nilsson gave her report on this story.
This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on June 2, 2020.
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