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

Enlarge / NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (foreground) work on Crew Dragon’s touch screens.


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

Hurley, the spacecraft’s commander, and Behnken, its pilot, will receive the “Bravery” medal on display during the Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. Their first mission was a complete success, and since that pioneering flight, NASA has completed five operational missions aboard Crew Dragon, as well as two private spaceflights.

A functioning Crew Dragon has provided NASA with its only means of reaching the space station outside of the Russian Soyuz vehicle, saving the space agency the embarrassment of having to rely on Russia for that transport amid rising tensions surrounding the war in Ukraine.

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

In more than four decades, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor has only ever been awarded to 28 astronauts. Of these, 17 were given posthumously to the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crash crews.

The U.S. Congress has authorized the President to award the medal “to any astronaut who, in the performance of his duties, has distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious effort and contribution to the welfare of the nation and of mankind” .

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

Over the next two years, other astronauts will pioneer new spacecraft and may become eligible for the medal.

Later this spring, in April, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will conduct the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the space station. Then, possibly in late 2024 or early 2025, four astronauts will fly NASA’s Orion spacecraft around the Moon. These four crew members of the Artemis II mission, which should include a Canadian astronaut, should be named this spring.

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