Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the previous NASA astronauts who ushered in a brand new period of house exploration once they flew to orbit aboard a SpaceX rocket in 2020, shall be awarded the Congressional House Medal of Honor at a White Home ceremony Tuesday.

The little-known award, which was created by Congress in 1969, the yr Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, is among the many most prestigious an astronaut can obtain and has been awarded sparingly. The final to earn the ornament was Robert Crippen, who served because the pilot for the primary House Shuttle flight. He was awarded the medal in 2006 by President George W. Bush.

Vice President Harris, who’s the top of the Nationwide House Council, would be the one giving the awards.

The award is for astronauts who’ve distinguished themselves “by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and of mankind,” in response to NASA. The award is given by the White Home based mostly upon suggestions from the NASA administrator.

In receiving the award, Behnken and Hurley could be including their names to a roster of explorers who helped NASA increase its frontiers from the daybreak of the House Age, when america was engaged in a Chilly Conflict house race with the Soviet Union, by way of the start of the shuttle period. The award has gone to Armstrong; Alan Shepard, the primary American in house; John Glenn, the primary American in orbit; and Jim Lovell, the commander of the Apollo 13 mission, whose lunar touchdown was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded. In all, the ornament has been awarded 28 instances, 17 posthumously — to the crew of Apollo 1, who died in a launchpad hearth, and the astronauts killed aboard house shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

Historically, the ornament is designed to commemorate a primary, stated Robert Pearlman, an area historian who’s the editor of Because the shuttle was in operation for 30 years, “there actually weren’t any firsts to be given,” he stated, referring to the lengthy hole because the final medal was awarded. “That is form of dusting off an previous award.”

In keeping with the Smithsonian Nationwide Air and House Museum, “though the award is a civilian one, it’s licensed to be worn as a army ornament.”

The arc of the careers of Behnken and Hurley present a bridge to NASA’s subsequent chapter of human spaceflight, because the company embraces the capabilities of the non-public sector. Each flew on the shuttle — and Hurley was aboard the final shuttle flight in 2011. And their check flight to the Worldwide House Station in Might 2020 on SpaceX’s first human spaceflight mission ended an ignominious interval after the Shuttle fleet was retired, during which NASA was pressured to depend on Russia for rides to the house station.

The flight was the achievement of a dangerous guess by NASA underneath the Obama administration to entrust the non-public sector to fly astronauts as a part of its “business crew” program. Beforehand, NASA allowed non-public firms to fly cargo and science experiments to the station. However placing astronauts on automobiles owned and operated by the business sector was thought-about too dangerous and even reckless — a view that was shared even amongst NASA’s management.

In 2014, nonetheless, NASA awarded contracts to House X and Boeing price $6.8 billion mixed to design and construct spacecraft able to flying astronauts to the station. Alongside the way in which, there had been plenty of stumbles that delayed the primary flights from 2017.

Given the big threat of the primary flight, NASA turned to 2 of its most trusted astronauts, whose lives and careers ran alongside comparable trajectories.

Each have been former army pilots, who achieved the rank of colonel — Hurley within the Marine Corps, Behnken within the Air Pressure. Each have been accepted to the NASA astronaut class of 2000. Each are fathers who married fellow astronauts. And for all their accomplishments and accolades, each are identified within the house business as merely “Bob and Doug,” who over time fashioned a bond that transcended the typically aggressive nature of the astronaut corps.

Throughout their check mission, they stayed on the station for barely longer than two months earlier than coming house in SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. The profitable splashdown served as a uncommon vivid spot in a yr stuffed with turmoil and devastation, from the start of the coronavirus pandemic to the social unrest within the wake of George Floyd’s killing to the clashes between protesters and authorities in cities from Portland, Ore., to Richmond.

The flight was additionally a triumph for SpaceX, the enterprise based by Elon Musk with the purpose of decreasing the price of spaceflight and making it routine. Since Behnken and Hurley’s mission, SpaceX has flown 5 different crews to the house station, a contingent of astronauts from NASA, Europe and even Russia. It additionally has flown non-public residents to orbit, together with one all-civilian crew to the station. Boeing, in the meantime, has struggled with the event of its Starliner spacecraft and hopes to launch its first human spaceflight mission to the station this spring.

Nonetheless, the success of this system has basically shifted NASA’s human exploration campaigns. As an alternative of proudly owning and working the automobiles themselves, the house company is now prepared — keen, even — to associate with the rising business house business.

NASA is now counting on non-public firms to construct business house stations to switch the getting older ISS. It is also counting on the non-public sector as a part of its Artemis marketing campaign to return astronauts to the lunar floor. Constructing on its profitable mission to the station, SpaceX has already been awarded a pair of contracts to fly NASA’s astronauts to and from the floor of the moon.

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