On January 31, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken joined the distinguished list of astronauts to receive the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, an award for “exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the Nation and of mankind.” What marks the difference between them and their predecessors? For the first time, a private U.S. company – SpaceX – built and launched the spacecraft, Endeavour.
Vice President Harris named this inaugural launch from the private sector a “new chapter in the history of American space flight” during her remarks.
Until the Crew Dragon’s launch in May of 2020, it was nearly a decade since the last American launch. As the private sector runs its race to space, the U.S. government celebrated its accomplishments through the honor of these two astronauts and continues to encourage more. The Crew Dragon is the first mission to launch with astronauts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The Commercial Crew Program creates partnerships in industry under the Space Act Agreements to meet their goals of “safe, reliable, and cost- effective human transportation.” President Biden’s honor of Hurley and Behnken signified the future of American space flight, piloted by the private sector.
The growth of the private space industry is not the only highlight of Vice President Harris’s speech honoring Hurley and Behnken. She also provided inspiration for students as the next generation of space explorers by inviting three engineering students to the Congressional Space Medal of Honor induction ceremony. Her remarks elicited visions of students watching the Crew Dragon launch from their dorms and classrooms, reminding the young generation that it can shoot for the stars.
With the right advancements in policy, America will see the innovation of the private sector propel scientific research and space flight to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
By Caylan Fazio
The CSU Global Space Law Center
The sky is no longer the limit…