SpaceX’s priority is to get humans into space. Eventually, some of those people will end up on Mars. For now, the rocket-launching company needs to work on getting astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). To that end, it recently showed off the hardware and astronauts that’ll be part of the historical mission.
The United States’ last crewed space mission (it was also the final shuttle flight STS-135) launched from Kennedy Space Center in 2011. Since then, US astronauts have hitched rides on Russian rockets. Meanwhile, SpaceX, Boeing and NASA are reviving US space flight with the Commercial Crew Program. It’s a boring name for something that’s exciting not only for NASA but also the four gentlemen who are testing (and will eventually be aboard) the Dragon spaceship when it launches.
To get to that point, SpaceX has spent years working closely with NASA and with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. The experienced astronauts have spent the past three years sharing their expertise with SpaceX on everything from placing buttons in the best area in the craft to building a chair that works best for reaching escape velocity (the velocity needed to escape the gravitational pull of a celestial body — in this case, Earth) to iterating the design of the rather stylish space suit they’ll be wearing.
Each has two shuttle flights under his belt; Hurley was also aboard the final US space launch. Along with astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins, they are scheduled to be part of the crewed launch in April 2019 (Demo-2). SpaceX is also planning a test flight in November this year (Demo-1) with no passengers onboard. There’s a lot to do before both these dates, but ahead of launch, SpaceX wanted to show off what was ready to go.
The company invited media to tour and learn about the Crew Dragon capsule and talk with astronauts and executives. The capsule itself was the biggest surprise. If you’ve ever seen photos of the inside of a space shuttle, chances are you remember the massive amount of gauges, knobs, levers and lights — like the cockpit of a commercial airline but with more stuff.
The Crew Dragon capsule is sparse — Swedish design sparse. There are four chairs and a three-display control panel with a touchscreen that sits in front of the two center seats. The left screen is for situational awareness and timeline. It has the spacecraft’s trajectory and when it’s expected to lose communication with the ground. The center screen is for attitude (the orientation of an aircraft or spacecraft) and location of the ISS and sun. The latter is for solar charging.