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SpaceX captures American flags aboard space station in Obama-era competition

  • SpaceX is poised to win a high-stakes game of capturing the flag as astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley prepare to return to Earth this weekend.
  • President Barack Obama started the competition nine years ago when his administration funded a public-private partnership program in which NASA would work with companies to send humans into space.
  • SpaceX beat the second company in the competition, Boeing, to its first crew.
  • The American flag flew on the first space shuttle and has been staying at the International Space Station since the shuttles stopped launching in 2011, waiting for the first commercial spaceship crew to claim it.
  • Visit the Business Insider website for more stories.

When NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley return to Earth in SpaceX̵

7;s Crew Dragon spaceship, they carry an American flag with even more symbolism than usual.

That trophy is a flag that flew on the first space mission. It was left on the ISS by the crew on NASA’s last spaceflight in 2011, of which Hurley was a member. The idea was that the next astronauts launched on an American spacecraft from American Earth would bring the flag back to Earth.

But at the time, it was not yet clear which company would get there first, or which astronauts were chosen for this mission.

barack obama elon musk spacex nasa

President Barack Obama is touring SpaceX’s commercial rocket launcher with Elon Musk at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, April 15, 2010.

NASA / Bill Ingalls

“I understand that it will be like a capture moment here for commercial spaceflight. So good luck to anyone who grabs that flag,” President Barack Obama said in a phone call with Hurley and his colleagues in 2011.

SpaceX launched Behnken and Hurley towards the International Space Station in May, marking the first time humans have ever flown a commercial spacecraft into orbit. They charged to the ISS and then climbed through the hatch into the floating laboratory the size of a football field.

At that moment, they put Elon Musk’s rocket company at the helm to win the nine-year game of catching the flag.

Shortly after, Hurley held up the flag to NASA’s live transmission cameras alongside Behnken and astronaut Chris Cassidy.

“Chris had it right on the hatch where we left it nine years ago,” Hurley said. “He has a note: ‘Do not forget to bring Crew Dragon.'”

Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to open from the space station at 19:34 ET on Saturday, after which they begin a fiery, high-speed journey through the Earth’s atmosphere. Assuming everything goes according to plan, they spray on Sunday at. 14.42 off the coast of Florida. At that time, SpaceX has successfully taken the flag. You can see NASA’s direct coverage of the return flight here.

“The race is not over until it is over,” Behnken told reporters before the May launch.

The world’s first commercial spaceflight

The Demo-2 mission is the product of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, a public-private partnership that President Barack Obama started in 2011. The goal was to restore the United States’ ability to launch its own astronauts into space after the space shuttle program ended. .

Both SpaceX and Boeing made it through the rigorous reviews and tests required by NASA. The space agency has contributed over $ 3.1 billion to SpaceX in the nearly decade-long partnership. Boeing has received about $ 4.8 billion in contracts. But software problems plagued Boese’s unoccupied test flight to the space station, triggering a series of required reviews and an impending re-do mission before the company can launch astronauts.

spacex falcon 9 rocket setup crew dragon spaceship endeavor demo2 demo 2 bob robert behnken doug hurley launch complex 39a kennedy space center ksc KSC 20200530 PH AWG06_0003_orig

Launched by a Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission launches NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside a Crew Dragon spaceship on May 30.

Tony Gray and Tim Powers / NASA

So SpaceX completed its first crew flight first.

If all goes well this weekend, NASA regularly hopes to drive astronauts to and from the station on Crew Dragon.

“We’re really focused on making sure we … carry out the ultimate mission that does not win against Boeing. It delivers this capability to the International Space Station so we can launch rotating crews from American soil,” Behnken said before the May launch. .

doug hurley bob behnken catch the flag emo demo 2 crew dragon spacex

Doug Hurley raises the flag during a press call with Bob Behnken (left) and astronaut Chris Cassidy (right) aboard the International Space Station, June 1, 2020.


For Hurley, the flag symbolizes the long journey and the dawning new era of commercial space travel.

“You can bet we’ll take it with us when we go back to Earth,” Hurley said as he unveiled the flag. “The important point, as I said before, is just to return launch function to the United States to and from the International Space Station. That’s what this flag really means.”

Susie Neilson contributed reporting to this story.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally announced on June 2, 2020.

Do you have a story or inside information to share about the aerospace industry? Send Dave Mosher an email at dmosher+tips@businessinsider.com or a Twitter message at @davemosher. Several secure communication options are shown here.

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