When NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley blasted off Saturday to the International Space Station, they waived goodbye to their wives and children, not knowing when they’ll return back to Earth.
Both men are married to fellow astronauts and each have a young son at home waiting for them. Behnken’s son Theo is 6 while Hurley’s son, Jack, is 10.
The boys were at Kennedy Space Center Saturday to see their fathers off before they headed for the launchpad and watched when the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon capsule on top lifted off at 3:22 p.m., marking the first time American astronauts launched from U.S. soil in nine years.
The veteran astronauts last launched in 2011, before Theo was born and when Jack was only 1 year old.
Behnken said the hardest part is not being able to tell his son when exactly he’ll be home.
“Several recent crews have had a little bit more uncertainty than we’ve had historically for how long their mission duration was going to be. But I guess maybe on the percentage scale, Doug and I have maybe the most uncertainty because it could be relatively short or we could potentially double or triple maybe what was originally expected for us just a few short months ago and so it’s a little bit strange,” Behnken said. “I’m trying to explain it to my son (who is) just six years old.”
That timeline could be anywhere from one month to four. To hold his boy over, he’s promised him a puppy upon his return.
“From his perspective, he’s just excited that we’re going to get a dog when I get home and so he’s accepting that uncertainty and continuing to send messages to me while I’m on orbit,” Behnken said.
My son and I took in a recent Falcon 9/Dragon launch together. This is what it took to get his approval for me to be onboard later this month! pic.twitter.com/NUjRZ5EDy6— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) May 12, 2020
Hurley’s son has been handling the experience well so far and was even impressed with the Crew Dragon capsule.
[ASTRONAUT ARRIVAL: NASA astronauts arrive on space station after successful trip in SpaceX spacecraft]
“I think most people think it’s a really cool looking vehicle, I know my son thinks so, and it does everything we needed to do for this mission so we’re very happy with that part of it,” Hurley said.
For Behnken, having a son and sharing the launch experience with him makes the mission even more memorable.
“It’s been a long time since I launched into orbit, and I’ve got a little boy who got a chance to watch me do that for the first time in his life, and I just wanted to understand what his experience was and share that a little bit with him while it was still fresh in his mind," Behnken said. “He was able to make the trip back to Houston after watching the docking from down in Florida, and was pretty excited about the whole thing, so that was a wonderful for me.”
Both Jack and Theo love dinosaurs, which is why Tremor, the blue-sequined Apatosaurus, came aboard for the mission.
Behnken said he and Hurley gathered up all the dinosaur toys from their homes and let the boys vote on which one would head to space.
“That was a super cool thing for us to get the chance to do for both of our sons,” Behnken said.