Former NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken (L) and Douglas Hurley (R), are awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor during a ceremony hosted by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris Tuesday. Photo by Michael Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Vice President Kamala Harris recognized two astronauts with Congressional Space Medals of Honor at the White House on Tuesday, honoring them for a 2020 mission.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley received medals for bravery for soaring to the International Space Station as part of NASA's SpaceX Demonstration Mission-2. It was the first time in 17 years that the medals have been awarded, Harris said.
The mission, launched May 30, 2020, ended a nine-year drought of human spaceflights from U.S. soil. It was also the first time a private company -- SpaceX -- sent a manned flight into orbit.
"Together Bob and Doug and the SpaceX team worked for years to design a new crew capsule, aptly named the Crew Dragon," Harris said. "Once the capsule was built, Bob and Doug spent hundreds of hours testing thousands of flight scenarios. They understood the stakes of their work."
The duo launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, embarking on a 19-hour journey in a Crew Dragon spacecraft to the space station.
"For the first time in almost a decade we witnessed American astronauts launch an American rocket from American soil," Harris said.
"Bob and Doug together have written the first page of a new chapter in the history of American space flight. Through their ingenuity and bravery they have helped build America's bridge to low-Earth orbit and to the International Space Station."
Behnken and Hurley spent 64 days in space, returning to Earth on Aug. 2, 2020.
The veteran astronauts have been involved in several key moments in the history of space exploration. Hurley was behind the controls of the space shuttle Atlantis when it returned to Earth in 2011, following 30 years in commission.
"It was a moment of profound pride to reflect on the years of incredible progress made by the shuttle and its crews," the vice president said.
Behnken, chief astronaut at NASA, was one of the engineers that helped build the International Space Station. He has been on 10 spacewalks.
Both astronauts' wives are also astronauts. Hurley's wife Karen Nyberg has been a part of multiple missions to the International Space Station. Behnken's wife Megan McArthur helped repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
The medal ceremony was livestreamed on NASA's official website, NASA Television, Twitter, Facebook and the NASA mobile app at 4:25 p.m. EST.