SpaceX Demo-2 Astronaut Walk-Out

NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley (left) and Robert Behnken speak to their families before entering the Tesla Model X that transported them from the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission.

Excitement, exhilaration, and a bit of nervousness were the emotions felt by most on Saturday, May 30 as they witnessed the successful launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon Spacecraft, with Owego Free Academy graduate and Apalachin, New York’s own Doug Hurley onboard.

The launch, initially scheduled for May 27, 2020, was scrubbed due to unfavorable weather conditions around Launch Complex 39A, according to NASA.

The launch on Saturday, May 30, resulted in a liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft. And according to NASA, Behnken and Hurley are the first astronauts to launch from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

One family friend was there to witness the launch, and had some personal reasons for going as well.

Dan Wheeler, a 1993 graduate of Owego Free Academy, was able to travel from what he now calls home in Tampa to watch the launch last Saturday.

Describing the launch, Wheeler explained the countdown, and how he then focused on the horizon.

“The rocket was already in the sky when the noise could be heard, and the rumble continued,” Wheeler described of witnessing the first launch from U.S. Soil since 2011, and a flight that was carrying his family’s friend, Astronaut Doug Hurley.

Dan and his brother Mark, along with parents Libby and George, grew up with the Hurley’s in Apalachin.

Wheeler got to know the Hurley’s as Doug’s parents, Sherry and Harv, met and worked at IBM together for many years. Dan is younger than Doug and his brother Dean, and was hoping to follow in Doug’s footsteps.

“I saw Doug as future me,” said Wheeler. “He went in the Marine Corps, and I went in the Navy.”

They even went to the same college, Tulane University in New Orleans.

The launch last Saturday, he did note, was different because of the pandemic. Sherry Hurley, Doug’s mom, told him he was on the list for the launch, and that only a small number was allowed at the Space Center.

Because of the pandemic, Wheeler was unsure if he would go and was feeling like he should be home with his family. On a clear day, he might be able to see the launch.

But because his father George, who passed away in recent years, was such an inspiration to him, he knew that he had to be there for his dad.

“He gave me a passion for space as a child, and was into science fiction,” said Wheeler. “I had to go in honor of my dad,” whom he noted was devastated when the space shuttle program ended almost a decade ago.

“We are in the future now, and we have a private company doing this,” added Wheeler as his excitement grew.

He contacted Hurley’s parents and told them he would be there. Arrangements were soon made and Wheeler was connected with Doug’s brother, Dean. They were at Cape Canaveral and near the beach. That was on Wednesday, however, the first launch that was scrubbed due to weather.

But Wheeler went back to Tampa and then returned to Cape Canaveral to witness the launch from the beach on Saturday.

“It was a great place to watch the launch,” Wheeler added, noting that the entire experience was “just awesome,” and there was a lot of energy.

Talking further about the actual launch, Wheeler said that the scrub on the first attempt was not a surprise; when he watched the STS-127 launch in 2009, it was scrubbed multiple times.

But last Saturday, Wheeler said he had a slight feeling in his gut that the launch would go off, even though there was a 50/50 chance that it might be scrubbed again because of weather. He said he just knew it was going to go.

He was a little sad, however, that his father wasn’t there with him, so there were a lot of emotions rolling around.

After blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center last Saturday, and then whizzing around the Earth at speeds that eventually hit 17,500 miles per hour, the SpaceX spacecraft, with Hurley taking the helm, docked with the International Space Station Sunday morning, completing the first leg of a historic journey.

As for Hurley, he will remain at the space station for a while along with the existing crew already stationed there. It will be awhile until he returns to solid ground, and to his home in Houston, Texas.

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