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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are slated to fly SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship this week. Here's how they've prepared.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are slated to fly SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship this week. Here's how they've prepared.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley will fly SpaceX's Crew Dragon - Business Insider

The Crew Dragon is expected to launch a new era of US spaceflight for NASA. It's slated to carry astronauts for the first time this week.

nasa astronauts doug hurley bob behnken spacex crew dragon spacesuits flight suits helmets commercial crew program ccp 4x3nasa astronauts doug hurley bob behnken spacex crew dragon spacesuits flight suits helmets commercial crew program ccp 4x3
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken (right) are slated to be the first people SpaceX launches into orbit.
SpaceX

Update: SpaceX scrubbed Wednesday's launch due to potentially unsafe weather conditions. The next launch attempt is on Saturday at 3:22 p.m. ET.

SpaceX is poised to launch its first astronauts into space on Wednesday: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. 

Their flight on the company's Crew Dragon spaceship will mark the first time an American spacecraft has carried NASA astronauts since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Behnken and Hurley's liftoff is expected to launch a new era of US spaceflight, since it could allow NASA to stop relying on Russian launch systems to get astronauts into space. It will also make the two astronauts the first to ever fly a commercial spacecraft.

"Bob and I were lucky enough to be selected together," Hurley told The Atlantic in September. "As we get closer to launch, things in the last year have actually been pretty hectic. We've been spending increasing amounts of time in California, because that's where most of the work is being done for Dragon."

In preparation, they've run through emergency procedures, undergone extensive training the Crew Dragon's mechanisms, worn their new spacesuits, and met with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

"People to a degree think it's pretty glamorous to be able to go into space, but it's actually like a messy camping trip," Hurley told Reuters in June 2019.

Here's how the astronauts were selected and how they're preparing to fly Crew Dragon to the space station.

In 2018, NASA selected Behnken and Hurley to be the first astronauts to fly SpaceX's new spaceship. They're about to become the first to fly any commercial spacecraft.

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Astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Robert "Bob" Behnken (right) celebrate after being selected to fly on the first crewed mission of the new SpaceX spaceship, August 3, 2018.
David J. Phillip/AP

SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spaceship as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program, a competition that spurred private companies to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.

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An illustration of SpaceX's Crew Dragon, also known as Dragon 2 or Dragon V2, orbiting Earth. (The first Dragon was a cargo and supply ship not designed to carry people.)
Kennedy Space Center/SpaceX via Flickr

In total, NASA selected nine astronauts to conduct the first human test flights of the Crew Dragon and its Boeing counterpart, the CST-100 Starliner.

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Nine astronauts, who will fly the first four crewed missions inside the Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, pose with the spaceships.
NASA via AP

After years of testing and demo flights, SpaceX is finally ready to fly astronauts. Launch is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27.

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Elon Musk (left) talks with NASA astronauts, including Behnken and Hurley, inside the crew access arm during a tour of Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, March 1, 2019.
NASA/Joel Kowsky

You can watch the liftoff and Crew Dragon's arrival at the space station live.

It will be the first time an American spacecraft has launched astronauts since 2011, when the space shuttle program ended.

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The final space shuttle mission, Atlantis STS-135, lifts off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 8, 2011.
Scott Audette/Reuters

Behnken and Hurley have been working closely with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon's development since 2015, so they're well equipped to fly the ship.

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Behnken (left) and Hurley (right), wearing SpaceX spacesuits, walk through the crew access arm connecting the launch tower to the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, January 17, 2020.
SpaceX

Both men started out as military pilots. Hurley spent 24 years as a test and fighter pilot in the Marine Corps, logging over 5,500 hours in more than 25 different aircraft.

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NASA astronaut Doug Hurley prepares for a flight in a T-38 trainer on his way from Houston to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, June 20, 2011.
NASA Photo / Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. Pool

Behnken was an Air Force test pilot. He logged over 1,500 hours flying more than 25 aircraft.

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Behnken dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit at NASA's Johnson Space Center, November 19, 2009.
James Blair/NASA

NASA hired them both as astronauts in 2000, and they became friends when they worked together in the space shuttle program.

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NASA's astronaut candidate class of 2000, including Behnken (front row left) and Hurley (back row, third from right) October 4, 2000.
NASA

Behnken flew on two space shuttle missions, logging over 708 hours in space with a total 37 hours of spacewalks.

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Behnken poses for a photo near the windows in the Cupola of the International Space Station, February 19, 2010. At the time he was an STS-130 mission specialist.
NASA

Hurley piloted two space shuttles, including the very last one, spending a total of over 683 hours in space.

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The STS-135 crew, including pilot Doug Hurley (left), prepares for the launch of NASA's final space shuttle mission in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 8, 2011.
NASA/Jerry Ross

Since NASA's final space shuttle flight, however, the agency has relied on Russia's Soyuz system to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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Photographers take pictures as the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft blasts off to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 11, 2018.
Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

But Russia has nearly quadrupled its prices over a decade.

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Tourists watch as the Soyuz MS-12 rocket ship for the next International Space Station (ISS) crew is moved at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Kazakhstan on March 12, 2019.
Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

A single round-trip seat now costs about $85 million, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN in September.

NASA expects a Crew Dragon seat to cost about $55 million.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon attached, rolls out of the company's hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A on January 3, 2019.
SpaceX

However, that doesn't include the $1.2 billion NASA spent on the new spacecraft's development in hope of replacing Soyuz.

Behnken and Hurley's preparation for the first crewed flight involved intensive training exercises and dry runs of launch day procedures.

spacex nasa astronauts bob behnken doug hurley commercial crew launch exercises
Behnken (front) and Hurley participate in a prelaunch operations training event at the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California
NASA/SpaceX

In total, the two astronauts have worked together for two decades.

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Hurley and Behnken familiarize themselves with the Crew Dragon, August 3, 2018.
SpaceX

"Bob and I got pretty close. It's just like anything else—you gravitate to certain people," Hurley told The Atlantic. "We spent a whole bunch of time together, and I got to the point where I thought, 'Hey, maybe this guy isn't so bad.'"

In 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry, killing its seven-member crew, Hurley and Behnken were stationed on the runway together.

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Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), October 18, 1993.
NASA

"On landing day, we were the two to catch the Columbia coming back," Behnken told The Atlantic. "We would have gone in, met the crew, and got them out. That was our shift."

"I've seen Doug's behavior at my wedding, I've seen Doug's behavior in an airplane, and we've worked together dealing with the aftermath of the worst thing you can imagine happening in our career field," Behnken said.

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Behnken trains in an external mobility unit spacesuit in October 2009.
NASA

"I can predict his actions. He can predict mine," he added.

Behnken, Hurley, and other Commercial Crew astronauts have advised SpaceX as it developed the Crew Dragon's inner workings, consulting on the designs of switches and control screens.

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NASA astronaut Robert "Bob" Behnken tests SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship mockup on Feb. 23, 2017.
NASA

"We're not the beneficiaries of a super-formal training program — it's kind of being developed as we go," Behnken told the Atlantic.

Commercial Crew astronaut Suni Williams previously told Business Insider that she and other astronauts warned SpaceX and Boeing that early versions of their spaceships showed the crew too little on-screen information.

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NASA astronaut and Commercial Crew member Suni Williams uses a Boeing CST-100 Starliner display trainer.
NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

"Automation can help us, but then you do have to watch out," Williams said. "We talked to both partners about: How do I check this? I have a timeline in front of me — how do I know these things are happening? Where do I check? Where do I look? What's my confirming cue?"

The two have split their time between Florida and California to evaluate the Crew Dragon's final designs.

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Behnken (left) and Hurley (right) tour SpaceX's Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, November 2018.
NASA/SpaceX

"Bob and I, the last two years, have essentially been living in California, working hand-in-hand with the folks at SpaceX to get us to this point," Hurley recently told the BBC.

Safety is the top priority, so Commercial Crew astronauts have practiced evacuating SpaceX's launch pad in the unlikely event of danger before liftoff.

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During an escape exercise, astronauts Shannon Walker (left) and Bob Behnken (right) pass through the water deluge system on the crew access tower of SpaceX's launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, September 18, 2019.
SpaceX

That emergency escape requires the astronauts to load into baskets on a zipline-like wire. Once they zip to the ground, an armored vehicle picks them up.

SpaceX launch pad Emergency Evacuation astronauts Shannon Walker Bob Behnken
Walker and Behnken practice loading into a slidewire basket and simulating an emergency escape to ground level, September 18, 2019.
SpaceX

After practicing that escape exercise, Behnken said: "Each time today when we headed down the crew access arm, I couldn't help but think about what it will be like to strap into Dragon on launch day."

spacex nasa astronauts bob behnken doug hurley commercial crew dragon evacuation exercise
Walker and Behnken practice loading into a slidewire basket in an emergency escape simulation, September 18, 2019.
SpaceX

The astronauts have also run through the process of being retrieved from the Crew Dragon capsule after it splashes down in the ocean.

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Doug Hurley, with teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearses crew extraction from SpaceX's Crew Dragon at the Trident Basin in Cape Canaveral, Florida, August 13, 2019.
NASA/Bill Ingalls

They've even done a dress rehearsal with the new SpaceX spacesuits.

spacex nasa astronauts doug hurley bob behnken commercial crew dragon dress rehearsal
Hurley (foreground) and Behnken don SpaceX spacesuits during a dress rehearsal in the Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 17, 2020.
NASA/Kim Shiflett

"NASA has not done a flight-test program for a spaceship since the space shuttle. So you're talking late 70s, early 80s is the last time we kind of did this as an agency," Hurley said in a 2018 NASA video.

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Hurley dons a SpaceX spacesuit during a dress rehearsal in the Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 17, 2020.
NASA/Kim Shiflett

"Some of it is kind of re-learning those techniques and those things that you need to make sure that you're watching out for," he added.

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Behnken examines a SuperDraco engine during a tour of the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California, March 8, 2017.
SpaceX

Both men have said they're looking forward to trying out the new spacecraft and getting back up to the space station.

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley space shuttle
Hurley looks out the window of the final space shuttle, Atlantis, during the flight's second day of activities in Earth orbit, July 9, 2011.
NASA

"When you get up there and look back at the Earth, I think there isn't anybody who that hasn't changed," Behnken told The Atlantic. "It really does change you, and hopefully for the better."

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NASA astronaut Bob Behnken floats outside the International Space Station in February 2010.
NASA

He added: "People ask us about commercialization of space, and I firmly believe that the more people we can get to go into space, the better off the planet's going to be."

spacex crew dragon nasa astronauts bob behnken doug hurley commercial crew spaceship
Behnken (left) and Hurley (right) pose in front of the SpaceX Dragon mock up at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, August 2, 2018.
Robert Markowitz/NASA/Johnson Space Center
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