NASA astronaut Doug Hurley shows off the U.S. flag that was left aboard the International Space Station in 2011 by the last space shuttle crew. Hurley and Behnken, at left, will take the flag back to Earth with them aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. The space station’s current commander, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, is at right. (NASA via YouTube)

arriving at the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken laid claim to a U.S. flag that symbolizes America’s capability to send people to orbit from U.S. soil.” data-reactid=”23″ type=”text”>A day after arriving at the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken laid claim to a U.S. flag that symbolizes America’s capability to send people to orbit from U.S. soil.

The handkerchief-sized flag, sealed in a plastic envelope, has been kept aboard the space station since 2011, when NASA’s final space shuttle crew left it behind before making their departure aboard Atlantis.

stored in an equipment bag, nearly forgotten — with instructions that it was to be taken back to Earth by the next crew launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.” data-reactid=”25″ type=”text”>It was displayed above the Harmony module’s hatch — and, for a time, stored in an equipment bag, nearly forgotten — with instructions that it was to be taken back to Earth by the next crew launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

That moment finally came on Sunday, when Hurley and Behnken floated through the Harmony hatch after their launch 19 hours earlier.

Two other angles add to the significance of the moment. The flag first flew into space on the very first flight of the space shuttle program, back in 1981. And among the members of the crew who left it on the station in 2011 was Hurley, who was Atlantis’ pilot back then and is now spacecraft commander for the SpaceX capsule.

Hurley held out the flag when he was asked about it today during a space-to-ground news briefing.

“We have talked about this flag before — many times over the last nine years since we left it here on STS-135 — and I think the important part is … just returning launch capability to the United States to and from the International Space Station,” Hurley said. “That’s what the flag really means. And I think a little bit more: It’s to the thousands of people who made it possible, from the folks at SpaceX to the folks at NASA, to the folks within the commercial crew program. We just are lucky enough to take it home with us.”

CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as an alternate ride for astronauts bound for the space station. The commander of the shuttle mission that left the flag on the station, Chris Ferguson, is now a Boeing executive who’s slated to be a test pilot on Starliner’s first crewed flight.  That added to the good-natured rivalry.” data-reactid=”31″ type=”text”>The flag was the focus of a friendly competition with Boeing, which has been developing its CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as an alternate ride for astronauts bound for the space station. The commander of the shuttle mission that left the flag on the station, Chris Ferguson, is now a Boeing executive who’s slated to be a test pilot on Starliner’s first crewed flight.  That added to the good-natured rivalry.

went awry last December, that made SpaceX and its Crew Dragon the clear favorite. After the Crew Dragon lifted off atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday, Ferguson tweeted that he was “proud to yield the title of ‘The last commander of an American launched spacecraft’” to Hurley.” data-reactid=”32″ type=”text”>For a time, the race to capture the flag seemed to be neck-and-neck, but when Starliner’s uncrewed test flight went awry last December, that made SpaceX and its Crew Dragon the clear favorite. After the Crew Dragon lifted off atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday, Ferguson tweeted that he was “proud to yield the title of ‘The last commander of an American launched spacecraft’” to Hurley.

tweet from 2011 noting that SpaceX was “commencing flag capturing sequence.”” data-reactid=”33″ type=”text”>SpaceX CEO Elon Musk joined in the repartee, resurrecting a tweet from 2011 noting that SpaceX was “commencing flag capturing sequence.”

Hurley joked that the space station’s commander, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, attached a note to the flag saying, “Do not forget to take with Crew Dragon.”

“Depending on how long we stay up here, you can bet we will take it with us when we depart back to Earth,” Hurley said.

That could be as little as six weeks, or as long as four months. NASA is still assessing how long the mission should last, based on the space station’s needs for people p

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