SpaceX is poised to launch its first astronauts into space this spring: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

Their flight on the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship will mark the first time an American spacecraft has carried NASA astronauts since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Behnken and Hurley’s liftoff is expected to launch a new era of US spaceflight, since it will allow NASA to stop relying on Russian launch systems to get astronauts into space. It will probably also make the two astronauts the first to ever fly a commercial spacecraft.

“Bob and I were lucky enough to be selected together,” Hurley told The Atlantic in September. “As we get closer to launch, things in the last year have actually been pretty hectic. We’ve been spending increasing amounts of time in California, because that’s where most of the work is being done for Dragon.”

In preparation, they've run through emergency procedures, undergone extensive training the Crew Dragon's mechanisms, worn their new spacesuits, and met with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

"People to a degree think it's pretty glamorous to be able to go into space, but it's actually like a messy camping trip," Hurley told Reuters in June.

Here's how the astronauts were selected and how they're preparing to fly Crew Dragon to the space station.

In 2018, NASA selected Behnken and Hurley to be the first astronauts to fly SpaceX's new spaceship. They'll probably be the first to fly any commercial spacecraft.

Foto: Astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Robert "Bob" Behnken (right) celebrate after being selected to fly on the first crewed mission of the new SpaceX spaceship, August 3, 2018.sourceDavid J. Phillip/AP

Source: NASA

SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon spaceship as part of NASA's Commercial Crew program, a competition that spurred private companies to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.

Foto: An illustration of SpaceX's Crew Dragon, also known as Dragon 2 or Dragon V2, orbiting Earth. (The first Dragon was a cargo and supply ship not designed to carry people.)sourceKennedy Space Center/SpaceX via Flickr

In total, NASA selected nine astronauts to conduct the first human test flights of the Crew Dragon and its Boeing counterpart, the CST-100 Starliner.

Foto: Nine astronauts, who will fly the first four crewed missions inside the Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, pose with the spaceships.sourceNASA via AP

Source: NASA

Musk expects to send Behnken and Hurley to the International Space Station on Crew Dragon's first manned test flight — called Demo-2 — in April, May, or June.

Foto: Elon Musk (left) talks with NASA astronauts, including Behnken and Hurley, inside the crew access arm during a tour of Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, March 1, 2019.sourceNASA/Joel Kowsky

Source: Business Insider

That would be the first time an American spacecraft has launched astronauts since 2011, when the space shuttle program ended.

Foto: The final space shuttle mission, Atlantis STS-135, lifts off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 8, 2011.sourceScott Audette/Reuters

Behnken and Hurley have been working closely with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon's development since 2015, so they're well equipped to fly the spacecraft.

Foto: Behnken (left) and Hurley (right), wearing SpaceX spacesuits, walk through the crew access arm connecting the launch tower to the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, January 17, 2020.sourceSpaceX

Source: Business Insider

Both men started out as military pilots. Hurley spent 24 years as a test and fighter pilot in the Marine Corps, logging over 5,500 hours in more than 25 different aircraft.

Foto: NASA astronaut Doug Hurley prepares for a flight in a T-38 trainer on his way from Houston to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, June 20, 2011.sourceNASA Photo / Houston Chronicle, Smiley N. Pool

Source: Business Insider, NASA

Behnken was an Air Force test pilot. He logged over 1,500 hours flying more than 25 aircraft.

Foto: Behnken dons a training version of his shuttle launch and entry suit at NASA's Johnson Space Center, November 19, 2009.sourceJames Blair/NASA

Source: NASA

NASA hired them both as astronauts in 2000, and they became friends when they worked together in the space shuttle program.

Foto: NASA's astronaut candidate class of 2000, including Behnken (front row left) and Hurley (back row, third from right) October 4, 2000.sourceNASA

Source: NASA, The Atlantic

Behnken flew on two space shuttle missions, logging over 708 hours in space with a total 37 hours of spacewalks.

Foto: Behnken poses for a photo near the windows in the Cupola of the International Space Station, February 19, 2010. At the time he was an STS-130 mission specialist.sourceNASA

Source: NASA

Hurley piloted two space shuttles, including the very last one, spending a total of over 683 hours in space.

Foto: The STS-135 crew, including pilot Doug Hurley (left), prepares for the launch of NASA's final space shuttle mission in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 8, 2011.sourceNASA/Jerry Ross

Source: NASA

Since NASA's final space shuttle flight, however, the agency has relied on Russia's Soyuz system to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

Foto: Photographers take pictures as the Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft blasts off to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 11, 2018.sourceShamil Zhumatov/Reuters

But Russia has nearly quadrupled its prices over a decade. A single round-trip seat now costs NASA about $85 million.

Foto: Tourists watch as the Soyuz MS-12 rocket ship for the next International Space Station (ISS) crew is moved at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Kazakhstan on March 12, 2019.sourceShamil Zhumatov/Reuters

Source: CNN

A Crew Dragon seat is expected to cost about $55 million. (Though that doesn't include the $1.2 billion NASA spent on the new spacecraft's development in hope of replacing Soyuz.)

Foto: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon attached, rolls out of the company's hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A on January 3, 2019.sourceSpaceX

Source: NASA Office of Inspector General

Behnken and Hurley's preparation for the first crewed flight involves intensive training exercises and dry runs of launch day procedures.

Foto: Behnken (front) and Hurley participate in a prelaunch operations training event at the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, CaliforniasourceNASA/SpaceX

In total, the two astronauts have worked together for two decades. "Bob and I got pretty close. It's just like anything else—you gravitate to certain people," Hurley told The Atlantic. "We spent a whole bunch of time together, and I got to the point where I thought, 'Hey, maybe this guy isn't so bad.'"

Foto: Hurley and Behnken familiarize themselves with the Crew Dragon, August 3, 2018.sourceSpaceX

Source: The Atlantic

In 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry, killing its seven-member crew, Hurley and Behnken were stationed on the runway together.

Foto: Space Shuttle Columbia lifts off from Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), October 18, 1993.sourceNASA

Source: The Atlantic

"I've seen Doug's behavior at my wedding, I've seen Doug's behavior in an airplane, and we've worked together dealing with the aftermath of the worst thing you can imagine happening in our career field. I can predict his actions. He can predict mine," Behnken said.

Foto: Behnken trains in an external mobility unit spacesuit in October 2009.sourceNASA

Source: The Atlantic

Behnken, Hurley, and other Commercial Crew astronauts have advised SpaceX as it develops the Crew Dragon's inner workings, consulting on the designs of switches and control screens.

Foto: NASA astronaut Robert "Bob" Behnken tests SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship mockup on Feb. 23, 2017.sourceNASA

Source: Business Insider

Commercial Crew astronaut Suni Williams previously told Business Insider that she and other astronauts had warned SpaceX and Boeing that early versions of their spaceships showed the crew too little on-screen information.

Foto: NASA astronaut and Commercial Crew member Suni Williams uses a Boeing CST-100 Starliner display trainer.sourceNASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Source: Business Insider

"Automation can help us, but then you do have to watch out," Williams said. "We talked to the both partners about: How do I check this? I have a timeline in front of me — how do I know these things are happening? Where do I check? Where do I look? What's my confirming cue?"

Foto: SpaceX says Crew Dragon's displays "will provide real-time information" on anything "from Dragon's position in space, to possible destinations, to the environment on board."sourceSpaceX

Source: Business Insider

"We spend a couple of days every week somewhere in Florida or California, evaluating the final designs. We're not the beneficiaries of a super-formal training program — it's kind of being developed as we go," Behnken told the Atlantic.

Foto: Behnken (left) and Hurley (right) tour SpaceX's Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas, November 2018.sourceNASA/SpaceX

Source: The Atlantic

Safety is the top priority, so Commercial Crew astronauts have practiced evacuating SpaceX's launch pad in the unlikely event of danger before liftoff.

Foto: During an escape exercise, astronauts Shannon Walker (left) and Bob Behnken (right) pass through the water deluge system on the crew access tower of SpaceX's launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, September 18, 2019.sourceSpaceX

Source: NASA

That emergency escape requires the astronauts to load into baskets on a zipline-like wire. Once they zip to the ground, an armored vehicle picks them up.

Foto: Walker and Behnken practice loading into a slidewire basket and simulating an emergency escape to ground level, September 18, 2019.sourceSpaceX

Source: NASA

After that escape exercise, Behnken said: "Each time today when we headed down the crew access arm, I couldn't help but think about what it will be like to strap into Dragon on launch day."

Foto: Walker and Behnken practice loading into a slidewire basket in an emergency escape simulation, September 18, 2019.sourceSpaceX

Source: NASA

The astronauts have also run through the process of being retrieved from the Crew Dragon capsule after it splashes down in the ocean.

Foto: Doug Hurley, with teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearses crew extraction from SpaceX's Crew Dragon at the Trident Basin in Cape Canaveral, Florida, August 13, 2019.sourceNASA/Bill Ingalls

Source: NASA

They've even done a dress rehearsal with the new SpaceX spacesuits.

Foto: Hurley (foreground) and Behnken don SpaceX spacesuits during a dress rehearsal in the Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 17, 2020.sourceNASA/Kim Shiflett

Source: NASA

"NASA has not done a flight-test program for a spaceship since the space shuttle. So you're talking late 70s, early 80s is the last time we kind of did this as an agency," Hurley said in a 2018 NASA video.

Foto: Hurley dons a SpaceX spacesuit during a dress rehearsal in the Astronaut Crew Quarters at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on January 17, 2020.sourceNASA/Kim Shiflett

Source: NASA

"Some of it is kind of re-learning those techniques and those things that you need to make sure that you're watching out for," he added.

Foto: Behnken examines a SuperDraco engine during a tour of the SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, California, March 8, 2017.sourceSpaceX

Source: NASA

Both men have said they're looking forward to trying out the new spacecraft and getting back up to the space station.

Foto: Hurley looks out the window of the final space shuttle, Atlantis, during the flight's second day of activities in Earth orbit, July 9, 2011.sourceNASA

Source: NASA, Doug Hurley on Twitter

"When you get up there and look back at the Earth, I think there isn't anybody who that hasn't changed," Behnken told The Atlantic. "It really does change you, and hopefully for the better."

Foto: NASA astronaut Bob Behnken floats outside the International Space Station in February 2010.sourceNASA

Source: The Atlantic

He added: "People ask us about commercialization of space, and I firmly believe that the more people we can get to go into space, the better off the planet's going to be."

Foto: Behnken (left) and Hurley (right) pose in front of the SpaceX Dragon mock up at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, August 2, 2018.sourceRobert Markowitz/NASA/Johnson Space Center

Source: The Atlantic