Two SpaceX commanders to receive Congressional Space Medal of Honor

In short: SpaceX astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken will receive the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on Tuesday. Both are former NASA astronauts who flew on the space shuttle before the program ended. The awardees continued to work at SpaceX.

Congressional Space Medal of Honor civil award, not to be confused with the Medal of Honor for military members. It was presented in 1969 and awarded to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin for being the first people to walk on the moon.

Traditionally, the medal is awarded to those who marked the first in space exploration. Congress also awarded this is posthumous to the crews of the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia. It was last awarded in 2006 when Robert L. Crippen piloted the shuttle’s first flight.

Thus, for the first time in 17 years, the White House will honor Hurley and Behnken as the first commercial space crew to arrive at the International Space Station, ending American astronauts forced to hitchhike on Russian ships. Their important mission was SpaceX Demo-2. It was originally scheduled for May 27, 2020, but the weather delayed it until May 30, 2020.

Demonstration-2 carried them to the ISS aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavor spacecraft. Pair joined the crew of Expedition 63 of the ISS and stayed on board the station for about two months, conducting various scientific experiments. They also installed “a new European Mark 2 drawer rack in the space station’s Columbus module.”

Interestingly, the Demo-2 mission was a direct result of NASA’s commercial crew program. In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing received a joint multi-billion dollar grant from the space agency.

As we have seen, the development and deployment of SpaceX manned spacecraft was much faster and more efficient than the Boeing Starliner spacecraft that had not yet taken off from the ground. After Hurley and Behnken’s landmark flight, SpaceX has delivered five more crews to the ISS, including astronauts from Europe and Russia.

Despite being a civilian award, the Space Medal of Honor is permitted to be worn as a military decoration when appropriate. Because Hurley is a retired Marine Corps colonel and Behnken is a former Air Force colonel, they can add the badge to their uniform’s lapels.

Today, Vice President Kamala Harris will present the medals at the White House.

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