Retired astronaut Robert (Bob) Behnken, Class of 1988, received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor from vice president Kamala Harris on Jan. 31. Behnken received the award for bravery in NASA’s SpaceX Demonstration Mission-2 (Demo-2) to the International Space Station in 2020. On May 30, 2020, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched to the space station, marking the first mission to launch with astronauts as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. As a space station crew member for 62 days, Behnken performed four spacewalks with former NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and contributed more than 100 hours to the orbiting laboratory’s scientific investigations. Behnken received the honor along with former astronaut Douglas Hurley. They are the first honorees since 2006 to receive this honor.
“For the first time, in almost a decade, we witnessed American astronauts launch an American rocket from American soil. And for the first time in history, we saw astronauts reach orbit in a capsule built and launched by the private sector. Bob and Doug together have written the first page of a new chapter in the history of American space flight,” Harris said. “Bob and Doug represent the best of our nation. The courage, the commitment, the brilliance, the vision, the ability to see and understand what is possible and then to go for it represents the best of who we are as a nation. And in that way you inspire all of us. In the coming years there is no doubt hundreds of people will fly to orbit in the capsule that they (Behnken and Hurley) helped to test and build … folks who otherwise would have only been able to look up and wander will now be able to go to orbit and help make real the incredible potential of space. Bob and Doug, on behalf of President Joe Biden, on behalf of the United States Congress, on behalf of people of the United States of America and on behalf of people you may never meet but who will forever be impacted because of your work, it is my great honor to award you both the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.”
Behnken was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and completed two space shuttle flights, logging 93 days in space. Behnken flew STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010, and he performed three spacewalks during each mission. He served as NASA’s chief astronaut from 2012 to 2015, and deputy of NASA’s Flight Operations Directorate from September 2021 to April 2022. He retired from NASA in November 2022. Before retiring from active military service in February 2022, Behnken had achieved the rank of colonel and flown more than 2,000 flight hours in more than 25 different types of aircraft. A St. Ann native, he earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from Washington University and a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology. Before joining NASA, Behnken was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force on the F–22.
The Congressional Space Medal of Honor was created by the United States Congress in 1969 to recognize exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the nation and mankind. It's awarded by the president of the United States in Congress's name on recommendations from the administrator of (NASA).
Photo: Former NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley, right, are seen after being awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by Vice President Kamala Harris during a ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Washington. Former astronauts Behnken and Hurley were awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for their bravery in NASA’s SpaceX Demonstration Mission-2 to the International Space Station in 2020, the first crewed flight as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky