Astronaut Bob Behnken made a phone call to son after docking at International Space Station


ST. LOUIS – St. Ann native Bob Behnken says one of the things he was most excited about docking at the International Space Station (ISS) was to make a call to his son back on earth.

“It’s been a long time since I launched into orbit and I have a little boy who got to watch me do that for the first time in his life. I just wanted to understand what his experience was and share that a little bit with him while that was still fresh in his mind. He was able to make the trip back to Houston after watching the docking down in Florida and was pretty excited about that, so that was wonderful for me,” said Behnken while answering reporters questions from the ISS this morning.

Behnken also talked about the changes since he’d last been there 6 years ago. He said there is a bit more science going on up there and more equipment on board.

He also says the structure and layout are similar. However, he did say it wasn’t as clean as the past. There are more items to stow and they will be moving items around as they settle in.

Now that NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have made it aboard the International Space Station, Elon Musk is breathing a sigh of relief that his company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket performed successfully during this weekend mission. Now SpaceX can officially consider itself the first-ever company to send humans into orbit aboard a privately-owned spacecraft.

But it’s not over yet. Critical weeks of safety and technical reviews of the spacecraft lie ahead before NASA will officially designate Crew Dragon as an “operational” vehicle. Then, another Crew Dragon spacecraft must be deemed ready for the next mission, dubbed Crew-1, that will carry four more astronauts to the space station: NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi.

NASA is hoping to launch Crew-1 in August.

The mission Behnken and Hurley began over the weekend won’t be considered a success until they return safely to Earth, but their mission is expected to last up to 110 days, and the journey home will be just as perilous as the ride to orbit.

Crew Dragon’s debut, however, is a significant milestone for SpaceX and NASA, and this mission was one of the biggest items both organizations needed to check off the list before turning to larger ambitions.

The United States hasn’t launched its own astronauts into space since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. Since then, NASA’s astronauts have had to travel to Russia and train on the country’s Soyuz spacecraft.

But the space agency chose not to create its own replacement for the Shuttle. Instead, it asked the private sector to develop a spacecraft capable of safely ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station — a controversial decision considering that NASA had never before outsourced the development of a human-rated spacecraft. The thinking was that companies could drive down costs and spur innovation, and NASA would have more time and resources to focus on exploring deeper into the solar system.

In 2014, NASA awarded two contracts: $4.2 billion to Boeing to build its Starliner vehicle, and $2.6 billion to SpaceX, which planned to create a crew worthy version of the Dragon spacecraft that was already flying cargo to and from the International Space Station.

NASA had already put money toward SpaceX’s development of the Dragon spacecraft used for transporting cargo, and the space agency has said Boeing received more money because it was designing the Starliner from scratch.

Boeing recently suffered a significant setback when a Starliner capsule malfunctioned during a key uncrewed test flight. But if SpaceX can safely return Behnken and Hurley, it’ll be a major win for NASA, which has been pushing for more commercial partnerships.

At times, delays with development of both the Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner capsule have threatened to leave the US portion of the ISS understaffed.

But, after years of anticipation, Crew Dragon capsules are poised to begin making regular trips to and from the space station, allowing NASA to take more control over staffing the ISS. The space agency hopes to have more hands on deck, creating more opportunities for conducting scientific experiments and maintaining ISS operations.

Because the Crew Dragon program is technically owned and operated by SpaceX, the company can even explore opportunities to take tourists or other non-astronauts to space.

Actor Tom Cruise, for example, is working with NASA to eventually film a movie aboard the ISS, the space agency says.

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