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St. Ann Native To Travel Into Space On Historic Mission

Bob Behnken will be one of the first astronauts to travel into space on a commercially built U.S. spacecraft, as part of a joint venture between NASA and aerospace company SpaceX.
Bob Behnken will be one of the first astronauts to travel into space on a commercially built U.S. spacecraft, as part of a joint venture between NASA and aerospace company SpaceX.

NASA is set to launch its first space mission from American soil in nearly a decade — with an astronaut from St. Louis County aboard.

St. Ann native Bob Behnken is part of a two-person crew heading to the International Space Station on the Crew Dragon spacecraft, a joint venture between NASA and the commercial aerospace company SpaceX. 

The historic mission, scheduled to launch Wednesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is also the first time a commercially built U.S. rocket and spacecraft will carry humans to the space station.

For Behnken, being aboard the spacecraft for its maiden flight is “living the dream.” He spoke at a press conference Friday with fellow crew member Douglas Hurley.

“Both of us would have been over the moon if we had the opportunity when we first arrived to fly on a new spacecraft,” he said. “We’ve longed to be a part of a test mission.”

Bob Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley are scheduled to lift off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon.
Credit NASA
Bob Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley are scheduled to lift off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Wednesday afternoon.

Behnken became an astronaut in 2000, after studying mechanical engineering at Washington University and the California Institute of Technology. During two previous space shuttle flights, he logged more than 700 hours in space and participated in six spacewalks.

The SpaceX launch has been in the works for years, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Over the past decade, the agency has awarded roughly $3.1 billion to SpaceX and $4.8 billion to Boeing to “establish safe, reliable and cost-effective access to space.”

Despite the pandemic, NASA and SpaceX opted to move forward with Wednesday’s launch, which is currently scheduled for 4:33 p.m. EDT.  The spacecraft is highly sensitive to weather conditions, however, including wind speed and precipitation. In the event of inclement weather, the mission will be rescheduled for May 30.

In addition to self-quarantining with their families, both astronauts have been tested multiple times for the coronavirus — and will likely be retested before the launch.

Mission staff also have had to change their operations across the country in order to continue safely working together, Behnken said.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft will carry Benhken and Hurley to the International Space Station, the first time a mission has launched from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
Credit NASA
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft will carry Benhken and Hurley to the International Space Station, the first time a mission has launched from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

“I hope the nation can look at this and recognize that this is something we're still going to accomplish,” he said. “And we're going to do it in the face of the pandemic.”

NASA has asked fans to watch the launch from home, rather than congregating in Cape Canaveral. 

“When we look back to the space shuttle launches, we had hundreds of thousands of people that would descend on the Kennedy Space Center,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said earlier this month in a pre-flight briefing. “We're asking people not to travel to Kennedy.”

Both NASA and SpaceX will air live coverage of the launch on Wednesday afternoon. NASA will continue providing live mission updates until Behnken and Hurley reach the space station on Thursday.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

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