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In Space, Astronauts Are Far From COVID-19, See A World Without Borders


A few weeks ago, two astronauts lifted off from U.S. soil.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Three. Two. One. Zero. Ignition. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon. Go NASA. Go SpaceX. Godspeed, Bob and Doug.


INSKEEP: Bob and Doug were on a SpaceX rocket. It's the first time a private company has carried astronauts into full orbit. Colonel Doug Hurley and Colonel Bob Behnken are now on the International Space Station, which is where we connected with them last week.

How's the view?

DOUG HURLEY: When we get a chance to look out the window, it's spectacular. I can't begin to describe some of the sites that you get to see - the sunrises, the sunsets. If you sat in the cupola for 45 minutes and you had a rough day, it would immediately wash it all away. It's just an incredible view of our planet that we have from here.

INSKEEP: How is going into space now different than it was half a century ago?

BOB BEHNKEN: If you go back to the earlier missions, the Apollo timeframe, the team on the ground did quite a bit of manual computation to ensure that the subtle burns that needed to happen with the engines onboard the vehicle to end up at the right landing site. We have the luxury of having much of that all onboard our vehicle. And so it was able to get all the way to space station pretty much by itself. And we monitored to make sure that that was happening safely.

INSKEEP: So you're in much more of a self-driving car? Is that a fair analogy?

BEHNKEN: We're in a self-driving car with a lot of capability to make sure that we agree with what it's decided to do.

INSKEEP: What did it mean for you that you went up in a privately owned spacecraft?

HURLEY: You know, from a personal standpoint, the opportunity to work on a brand-new vehicle and fly on the first test flight of a brand-new vehicle was just something that comes along once in a generation. So you know, when we were offered the opportunity to participate, obviously, we wouldn't say no.

INSKEEP: Do you talk among yourselves about what the possibilities might be 10 or 20 years from now because of some of the work you're doing now?

BEHNKEN: I think we talk amongst ourselves in terms of what the possibilities might even be next year or three years from now. We look at the reuse that SpaceX has done with the first-stage rockets that they have. It's opened up the door for, you know, missions to be launched that would be prohibitively expensive if you were to use another method for getting the vehicle into space.

As the cost goes down, then, you know, really, those opportunities will open up for other folks to fly on those vehicles. I think you'll still need somebody trained to go with them. And much like if you were to go scuba diving, you know, you can be trained and go. But you want to go with somebody who's got some skills and some experience.

INSKEEP: Gentlemen, final question, do you get a chance to follow the news from home? And does it feel different from the distance that you're at to be following it?

HURLEY: It's tough to see the world kind of in the state it's in right now from here. It's difficult to see the challenges that we're facing with the strife in the cities and with the pandemic. And then, just by virtue of being able to look out the window, you see the world with no borders up here. And that does resonate with you. And, hopefully, that message can get back down to Earth, that, you know, we need to be able to work together for the common good and not work against each other and argue all the time over things that shouldn't be argued about.

INSKEEP: Colonel Hurley and Colonel Behnken, thank you very much, gentlemen.

HURLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.