On Friday, July 16, NASA astronaut Douglas (Doug) Hurley retired from NASA after 21 years. He leaves the agency with the honor of making history as the astronaut who rode the final Space Shuttle flight in 2011 and being commander of SpaceX’s first crewed mission. Hurley helped usher in a new era of American human spaceflight on May 30, 2020, when he launched aboard SpaceX’s first crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The historic flight, known as Demo-2, was conducted to certify SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is safe to carry humans.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket propelled Crew Dragon Endeavour to orbit from the John F. Kennedy Space Center, carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken. NASA had not launched astronauts from the United States since the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded. In fact, Hurley was aboard the final Space Shuttle flight to ISS, he left a U.S.A. flag at the Space Station on its final flight. The flag flew on the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and the final one in 2011. The agency detailed the purpose of the flag is to symbolize that one day astronauts would return aboard an American-made spacecraft. “The flag will remain displayed onboard the station until the next crew launched from the U.S. retrieves it for return to Earth so that it can be carried by the first crew launched from the U.S. on a journey of exploration beyond Earth orbit,” NASA said in 2011. Almost a decade later, Hurley launched aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and brought back the iconic flag upon return on August 2nd, 2020. Hurley said the flag represents the hard work of thousands of NASA and SpaceX teams who helped return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. “This flag has spent some time up here, on the order of 9 years... I'm very proud to return this flag home and see what's next for it on its journey to the Moon,” Hurley said last year. SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission was Hurley’s final flight to space as a NASA astronaut.
Over the course of his extensive career, Hurley served the U.S. Marine Corps for 24 years and became a NASA astronaut in 2000. Hurly conducted four missions to space; He was the pilot on the agency’s STS‐127 mission aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor, STS‐135 aboard Atlantis, and commander of SpaceX’s Demo-2. He spent a total of 93 days working in microgravity at ISS while orbiting Earth. “Doug Hurley is an exceptional astronaut whose leadership and expertise have been invaluable to NASA’s space program,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “His impact on the agency transcends his impressive work in spaceflight, inspiring us to take on bold endeavors. I extend my deepest gratitude to Doug and wish him success in his next adventure.”
“For 21 years, I’ve had the incredible honor of participating in the American space program and working alongside the extremely dedicated people of NASA. To have had a place in the assembly of the International Space Station, and the Space Shuttle Program including flying on its final mission, STS-135, has been a tremendous privilege,” Hurley stated in a NASA press release. “To then have had the opportunity to be at the forefront of the Commercial Crew Program, specifically working with SpaceX, on to commanding the first flight of Crew Dragon, and finally, as a perfect end to my flying career, serving onboard the space station as a resident crew member. On personal level, there were many significant life moments, too, at NASA that have had their forever impact on me. The loss of my colleagues on space shuttle Columbia. And meeting my wife here and starting our family. It is truly humbling when reflecting back on it all,” Hurley said on Friday. Hurley found love at NASA, he is married to retired astronaut Karen Nyberg and they have a son.
Left to right: Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.
All Images Source: SpaceX / NASA