NASA astronauts arrive in Florida, marking 1 week countdown to historic launch

Astronauts Doug Hurley, Bob Behnken prepare for May 27 launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Similar to the space shuttle program days, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew from Houston to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Wednesday, marking the beginning of an exciting week of launch preparations ahead of the first astronaut spaceflight from Florida in nine years.

Both Hurley and Behnken have spent plenty of time at KSC preparing for the May 27 launch on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 but their arrival set in motion a series of events and fanfare the Space Coast hasn’t seen in years. It’s reminiscent of the space shuttle program but also very different.

The historic launch is coming in the midst of a pandemic, which means NASA is limiting the number of news media on site. The typical astronaut interviews were with a smaller press pool and held virtually due to the coronavirus.

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The astronauts traveled in NASA’s Gulfstream aircraft from Ellington Field near NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston departing around 2:30 p.m. and arriving at KSC a little after 4 p.m.

Hurley was one of the last NASA astronauts to make that same trip in 2011 for the last space shuttle launch.

He described Kennedy Space Center as “home away from home” because both astronauts spent a lot of time there during the space shuttle program. At that time, KSC Director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut, was head of the NASA astronaut office.

“I happen to have been one of the four astronauts that landed here almost nine years ago in T-38s on the Fourth of July in 2011 to close out the space shuttle program so it’s incredibly humbling to be here to start out the next launch from the U.S." Hurley said.

The jet touched down on the former space shuttle runway, now called the Launch and Landing Facility, where NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Cabana greet them but not with handshakes, the administrator noted.

The astronauts answered a few questions on the runway describing how they adapted their training and launch preparations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In his remarks, Bridenstine did not address the changes at the NASA human spaceflight office. On Monday, Doug Loverro, the head of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, stepped down. A surprising move so close to the launch.

Bridenstine said the launch is a “bright light” for the world right now amid the pandemic.

“This is a tough time in American history. It’s a tough time in world history but it is not unique to the times that we saw in the 1960s," Bridenstine said. "We had a war raging in Vietnam, we had protests, we had civil rights abuses and protests. We had division in this country in the lives of which we have never seen before and at the same time NASA was able to unite - not just the U.S.-- but unite the world in this very unique moment when we saw Neil Armstrong land on the moon.”

Prior to their launch, the astronauts families will come to Florida where they will be able to spend time with them at KSC’s Conference Center, also known as the beach house. Both astronauts have young sons and met their wives in astronaut training. The families have been observing quarantines to be able to spend time with the astronauts before liftoff, Behnken said.

On Saturday, Hurley, Behnken and the rest of the Demo-2 mission crew will run through a launch dress rehearsal. This is also similar to the space shuttle program but, again, will look very different.

The astronauts will wear new SpaceX flight suits and ride a Tesla Model X to launchpad 39A at KSC. Once at the launch pad, they will take an elevator up to the white room where they will prepare to step into their ride to the International Space Station: the Crew Dragon, atop the Falcon 9 rocket.

Hurley and Behnken will do this all again a week from Wednesday when they launch in the Crew Dragon spacecraft at 4:33 p.m.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy is the only U.S. crew member on the space station right now and looking forward to having Behnken and Hurley join him.

“He’s looking forward to seeing our ugly mugs onboard space station,” Hurley said of an email Cassidy sent them this week. “But it’s exciting because we know Chris very well."

Cassidy flew on previous missions with Hurley, along with his wife, astronaut Karen Nyberg.

Once they arrive in Crew Dragon, they will stay anywhere between one and four months depending on when the next Crew Dragon launch can happen, according to Hurley.

Stay with News 6 and for updates as American astronauts launch from Florida’s Space Coast once again.