NASA's newest test pilots are veteran astronauts, friends

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In this Jan. 17, 2020 photo made available by SpaceX, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, walk through the Crew Access Arm connecting the launch tower to the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft during a dress rehearsal at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. For their May 27, 2020 mission, Hurley will be in charge of launch and landing and Behnken will oversee rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station. (SpaceX via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The two astronauts who will test drive SpaceX’s brand new rocketship are classmates and friends, veteran spacefliers married to veteran spacefliers, and fathers of young sons.

Together, they will end a nine-year drought for NASA when they blast into orbit next week from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Retired Marine Col. Doug Hurley will be in charge of launch and landing, a fitting assignment for the pilot of NASA’s last space shuttle flight.

Air Force Col. Bob Behnken, a mechanical engineer with six spacewalks on his resume, will oversee rendezvous and docking at the International Space Station.

Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, are NASA’s first test pilot crew in decades.

"It’s probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand new spaceship, and I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend," Behnken said.

Their flight will mark the return of NASA astronaut launches to the U.S., the first by a private company.

They’ve got Robert Crippen’s respect. Crippen and the late John Young rode NASA’s first space shuttle, Columbia, into orbit on April 12, 1981. Their two-day flight was especially dangerous: It was the first launch of a shuttle, with no dry run in space in advance.