June 9, 2023


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Crew Dragon astronauts receive a rare Space Medal from the White House

Crew Dragon astronauts receive a rare Space Medal from the White House
Zoom in / NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (foreground) work on Crew Dragon touchscreens.


On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris will award the Congressional Medal of Honor for Space to Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken. Former NASA astronauts launch on the first flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in May 2020.

Hurley, the spacecraft’s commander, and its pilot, Behnken, will receive the “Courage” medal displayed during the Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. Their first mission was a complete success, and since that groundbreaking flight, NASA has flown five operational missions aboard the Crew Dragon, along with two private spaceflights.

The Dragon crew provided NASA with its only means of access to the space station except for the Russian Soyuz spacecraft – saving the space agency the embarrassment of having to rely on Russia for that transfer amid heightened tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine.

Outside of space circles, the Space Medal isn’t a particularly well-known honor, especially because it hasn’t been awarded in nearly two decades. However, the medal is prestigious and often only awarded to astronauts who have died during spaceflight activities.

For more than four decades, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor It was only granted 28 astronauts ever. Of these, 17 were posthumously handed over to the crews of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia accidents.

The US Congress authorized the President to award the medal “to any astronaut who has distinguished himself in the performance of his duties by exceptionally meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the nation and of mankind.”

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President Carter awarded first prizes to Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong, Frank Borman, and Pete Conrad; Gemini Gus Grissom; and Alan Shepard and John Glenn of Mercury in 1978. When not awarded posthumously, it has gone to pioneers, such as Shannon Lucid, who made a long-duration spaceflight on the Mir space station, or astronauts who first flew on new vehicles, such as John Young and Robert Crippen aboard the space shuttle.

Within the next two years, additional astronauts will pilot new spacecraft and may become eligible for the medal.

Later this spring, as soon as April, Butch Wilmore and Sonny Williams will make the first manned launch aboard Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the space station. Then, possibly in late 2024 or early 2025, four astronauts aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft will fly around the moon. The four crew members for the Artemis II mission, expected to include a Canadian astronaut, are likely to be named sometime this spring.