Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were expected to lift off on Wednesday, but weather conditions moved their historic launch to Saturday

By Joelle Goldstein
May 29, 2020 04:11 PM
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Astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken
| Credit: John Raoux/AP/Shutterstock

Two American astronauts are set to take off for space on Saturday, marking the first time that the United States will launch an American rocket from American soil in nine years — but who are the men behind the historic mission?

Robert "Bob" Behnken and Douglas "Doug" Hurley have been best friends for years, though they've never flown to space on the same mission in their 20-year tenure at NASA, according to the The New York Times.

On Saturday, Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, will finally embark on a mission together as they take off in the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and head toward the International Space Station.

The pair were initially expected to take off on Wednesday at 4:33 p.m. ET, but poor weather conditions caused them to scrub the launch 17 minutes prior and move it to Saturday.

"We’ve been close friends since we started as astronauts almost 20 years ago," Hurley said in a promotional video shared by NASA. "So being lucky enough to get to fly with your best friend is kind of a — I think there’s a lot of people that wish they could do that, and we’re lucky enough to do it."

"We've spent a ton of time together. We could have gone two directions with that. We could have gotten to the point where we didn’t want to be around each other, or we’re closer," he added. "So I think just the whole experience for me is what we’re looking [forward to]."

SpaceX Launch
The SpaceX Launch on Wednesday
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Prior to his time at NASA, Behnken attended the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California and served as a flight test engineer for the 4th F-22 Combined Test Force, according to his NASA biography. While there, he got experience flying and operating numerous types of aircraft.

Similarly, Hurley served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and attended the United States Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland prior to joining NASA, according to his biography. He also got experience with flight training while attending The Basic School in Virginia.

In 2000, Behnken and Hurley became two of the 17 astronauts selected by NASA to join their agency.

They quickly made their marks, with Behnken taking his first trip to space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 and again in 2010. Meanwhile, Hurley flew to space for the first time in 2009, also on Endeavour, according to their bios.

Success wasn't the only thing they found while working at NASA — both astronauts also found love.

Behnken married oceanographer Megan McArthur, who helped with a shuttle mission in 2009 to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, according to the her NASA biography.

Hurley married fellow astronaut Karen Nyberg. In 2013, she spent close to six months on the International Space Station and recently retired from NASA at the end of March, according to a NASA press release.

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, stand in front of Launch Complex 39A
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken
| Credit: NASA

As if their stories weren't similar enough, Behnken and Hurley also both have young sons. Behnken has a 6-year-old son, Theodore, with McArthur, while Hurley and Nyberg have a 10-year-old named Jack, according to the Times.

"I think it’s a pretty cool looking vehicle and my 10-year-old son certainly thinks it’s a cool vehicle with a cool name, Dragon," Hurley said, according to the NYT. "So I got the thumbs up from him and in the end, that’s all that matters."

Their personal lives and longtime friendship are part of what Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, said makes Behnken and Hurley's upcoming mission so special.

"I wanted to make sure everyone at SpaceX understood and knew Bob and Doug as astronauts, as test pilots — badass — but also as dads and husbands," Shotwell said, according to the NYT. "I wanted to bring some humanity to this very deeply technical effort as well."

Despite their prior experience, Behnken said he was still in disbelief about living the dream with his best friend.

"As graduates of military test pilot schools, if you gave us one thing that we could have put on our list of dream jobs that we would have gotten to have someday, it would have been to be aboard a new spacecraft and conduct a test mission" Behnken said, according to The Washington Post.

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Their decades-long friendship is also what the astronaut believes will make them successful on their journey to space.

"One of the things that’s really helpful for us as a crew is the long relationship that Doug and I have had," Behnken told reporters, according to the NYT. "We’re kind of at the point in our experience — whether it’s flying in the T-38 or executing in a SpaceX simulation or approaching and docking to the International Space Station — where we, in addition to finishing each other’s sentences, we can predict, you know, almost by body language, what the person’s opinion is or what they’re going to do, what their next action is going to be."

And though she is proud of her husband, McArthur said watching the takeoff will still leave her uneasy.

"One of the hardest things to do is watch the person that you love launch into space," she said, according to The Washington Post. "It’s much harder than actually doing it yourself when you’re in the rocket. You have the training. You’re prepared for the mission."

"When you’re watching, you’re just a spectator. And no matter what happens, there’s nothing you can do to contribute to the situation," McArthur added.

Behnken, who is serving as joint operations commander, and Hurley, who will be spacecraft commander, will lift off in the Crew Dragon spacecraft at 3:22 p.m. ET.