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SpaceX captures the US flag aboard the space station in the Obama-era competition

  • SpaceX is set to win a high-stake game to capture the flag as astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley prepare to return to Earth this weekend.
  • President Barack Obama began the competition nine years ago, when his administration funded a public-private partnership program in which NASA would work with companies to send people into space.
  • SpaceX defeated another competition company, Boeing, in its first launch.
  • The American flag flew on the first space shuttle and remained on the International Space Station since shuttles stopped launching in 2011, waiting for the first commercial aircraft crew to pick it up.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

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

7;s Crew Dragon, they will carry an American flag with more symbolism than ever before.

The trophy in question is a flag that flew on the first mission of the shuttle mission. It was left on the ISS by the crew of the last NASA shuttle space in 2011, of which Hurley was a member. The idea is that the next astronauts to launch an American spacecraft from US ground will return the flag to Earth.

But at that time, it was not yet clear which company would be available there, or which astronauts would be selected for that mission.

barack obama elon musk spacex nasa

President Barack Obama toured the commercial rocket Elon Musk processing facility at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, April 15, 2010.

NASA / Bill Ingalls

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

SpaceX launched Behnken and Hurley to the International Space Station in May, marking the first time humans have flown a commercial spacecraft to orbit. They docked on the ISS, then climbed the hatch onto the floating football-field-sized machine.

At that moment, they put rocket company Elon Musk on the winning cusp of the nine-year-long game to capture the flag.

Soon, Hurley held the flag up to NASA’s live camera broadcasts alongside Behnken and astronaut Chris Cassidy.

“Chris was right on the hatch where we left it nine years ago,” Hurley said. “He got the note: ‘Don’t forget to get Crew Dragon.'”

Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to open from the space station at 7:34 pm on Saturday, then embark on a fiery, very fast journey around Earth. Assuming everyone is according to plan, they will plunge on Sunday at 2:42 p.m., off the coast of Florida. At that point, SpaceX successfully captured the flag. You can watch NASA’s live coverage of the return here.

“The race did not end until it was 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 initiated by President Barack Obama in 2011. The goal is to restore the U.S.’s ability to launch its own astronauts into space after the space shuttle program.

Both SpaceX and Boeing did this through the rigorous testing and testing required by NASA. The space agency has contributed more than $ 3.1 billion to SpaceX in a nearly decade-long partnership. Boeing received nearly $ 4.8 billion in contracts. But software issues hit Boeing’s invincible flight test at the space station, triggering a series of necessary tests and an upcoming mission to be redone before the company’s astronauts were deployed.

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

SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, launched using a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside the Crew Dragon on May 30.

Tony Gray and Tim Powers / NASA

So SpaceX completed its first crewed flight first.

If all goes well this weekend, NASA expects to regularly cart astronauts to and from the Crew Dragon station.

“We are really committed to making sure that we … fulfill the final mission, which did not win against Boeing. It gives this capability to the International Space Station so that we can start the crew rotation from American soil,” he said. by Behnken before the May launch.

doug hurley bob behnken get the flag iss demo 2 crew dragon spacex

Doug Hurley holds 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 beginning of a new era of commercial spaceflight.

“You can bet we’ll take it with us when we leave Earth,” Hurley said as he waved the flag. “The important point is, as I said before, the return of launch capacity in the United States to and from the International Space Station. That is what this flag means.”

Susie Neilson contributed reporting for this story.

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

Do you have a story or inside information to share about the spaceflight industry? Send Dave Mosher an email to dmosher+tips@businessinsider.com or a direct Twitter message to @davemosher. Safer communication options are listed here.

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