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SpaceX is about to win a high-stakes game of capture the flag that Barack Obama started 9 years ago

When NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley return to Earth on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, they’ll be carrying an American flag with even more symbolism than usual.

The flag first rocketed to orbit on the inaugural space shuttle mission, STS-1. It was left on the ISS by the crew of NASA’s final space shuttle flight in 2011, called STS-135, of which Hurley was a member. The idea was that the next astronauts to launch on an American spacecraft from US soil would return the flag to Earth.

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But at that time, it wasn’t yet clear which company would get there first, or which astronauts would be selected for that mission.

barack obama elon musk spacex nasa

President Barack Obama tours the SpaceX commercial rocket processing facility with Elon Musk, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, April 15, 2010.


NASA/Bill Ingalls

“I understand it’s going to be sort of like a capture-the-flag moment here for commercial spaceflight. So good luck to whoever grabs that flag,” President Barack Obama said on a phone call with Hurley and his colleagues in 2011.

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