The last space shuttle pilot, SpaceX’s first capsule commander watching the next spacecraft take flight

Astronaut Doug Hurley commanded the first human mission of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in 2020. Prior to that, he notably piloted the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011, logging more than 92 days in space.

Hurley retired as a NASA astronaut last year. Now he works for Northrop Grumman, which builds the Solid Rocket Boosters — the two towering white cylindrical rocket engines that will give NASA’s SLS rocket and Artemis I mission a big boost from the launch pad on Monday.

WMFE’s Brendan Byrne spoke with Hurley at Kennedy Space Center.

Doug, you ordered a vehicle for the first time where humans were on it with Crew Dragon and Falcon 9. When you look at this uncrewed mission, from your perspective, what are the things that astronauts can drive on this vehicle will be on the lookout for this launch?

Excellent question. For us, it was a very similar mindset when we first rode Crew Dragon. We had an unmanned test flight like this. We also had an unmanned flight abort test, which further boosted the confidence of the team. You want to see the ground crew, the contractor crew, the integration crew — all of those mission control crews coming together and hitting their stride. I think we are ready for that now. It’s that next test – the uncrewed test flight. We want to make sure that we are testing end-to-end.

The heat shield is one of the big goals of the test, probably the biggest: how it will react to re-entry speeds. But it really does, and for all the different components, including our boosters, we just want to make sure it all works.

I would also say that we’re really stretching things out with a 42-day mission that stretches some of the components quite significantly because we’re not planning on doing that with Artemis II. You just want to make sure you have confidence that everything will work as it should when you put the crew on it.

And how involved are the astronauts in this? I know you were very intimately involved in the design and development of [SpaceX’s] Crew Dragon. What insight do astronauts give engineers and mission managers regarding Artemis II and Artemis III?

I haven’t been there for a while, about a year. But you know, the traditional approach is always that we’re integrated, start to finish, certainly on the operational side of things – where the human in the loop happens – and just making sure everything works the way it’s supposed to do it from this point of view.

What advice do you have for astronauts who are going to observe, anticipating possibly getting on this thing? What advice do you have for them being in your unique experience?

It’s just a simple case of hope, you’re one of the lucky ones who can ride this thing or walk on the moon. It really is an amazing time to be in manned spaceflight. These folks have worked a long time to get here and I’m thrilled for them. I know quite a lot of them. And it will happen when it happens – when the hardware is ready for us to do it. But get excited for them.

And finally, Doug, it’s been a long time since people like me on the Space Coast have seen a solid rocket booster ignite since the end of the Shuttle program reminds us of what we’re going to see with those SRBs. And hear.

It’s just amazing because you’ll see the light – it’s an incredibly bright, bright flash. I think it’s similar to what Shuttle was where the boosters will just turn on at T-0. Engines turn on before they check engine health, then boosters turn on at T-0.

And it’s a really bright flash from the bottom of the two. And then it’s about five or six seconds later when you feel the shock wave, hear the noise. But by then the rocket will have cleared the tower. And that crackle of solid rocket booster is unlike any other launch sound you’re going to hear. It stands out completely from all the rest. So it would be amazing to see this giant nearly seven million pound vehicle launch.

About Travis Durham

Check Also

NASA calls for proposals for 2nd Artemis lunar lander

NASA is asking private industry to come up with ideas for another astronaut lunar lander. …