Last week, NASA made two important announcements pertaining to the future of America’s manned space travel endeavors. The first announcement, which garnered the majority of the attention, was the list of astronauts slated to be the first ever to venture into space aboard commercial rockets. The second, however, tempered the excitement — acknowledging that the planned launch of these missions has been delayed due to some setbacks in the manned space programs of both Boeing and SpaceX.
According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, their Crew Dragon capsule that will ferry Americans into orbit has two test launches slated between now and April of 2019. Provided those tests flights go according to plan, Musk claims his capsule will be ready for crewed launch just in time for NASA’s new anticipated launch date. That first SpaceX crew will be made up of two seasoned astronauts and military aviators: Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.
Hurley, a Marine colonel and the first ever test pilot to get behind the stick of the upgraded F/A-18 Super Hornet during his fighter days, was a member of the astronaut class of 2000. With over 5,000 flight hours achieved in a variety of military aircraft, Hurley’s space-based credentials include two missions aboard the now-defunct space shuttle: making the trip to the International Space Station aboard both the Space Shuttles Endeavor and Atlantis. Hurley’s last flight aboard the shuttle also marked the final voyage of the platform itself.
Behnken will serve as the flight test engineer on the Dragon capsule’s maiden manned voyage. A U.S. Air Force colonel who also joined NASA in the astronaut class of 2000 and also has extensive experience in a wide variety of military aircraft. Since joining NASA, Behnken, like Hurley, has already made it out of the atmosphere on two separate occasions: first as a specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor, then again aboard the same shuttle on a return trip to the International Space Station in 2008.
Unlike the trips these astronauts made aboard the space shuttle, the Dragon capsule looks less like the cockpit of a space-plane and more like something out of a JJ Abrams movie, complete with sleek looking carbon fiber components and an array of screens where the decidedly dated space shuttle interior was adorned with toggle switches and knobs.
With four windows positioned around the cabin, the Dragon Capsule is designed to offer passengers a view of their journey, which speaks to the inherent difference between platforms produced by the government specifically for function, versus platforms produced by the private sector with the potential to open seats to the public at some point. Likewise, the entire capsule interior appears to be a bit more spacious than the cramped quarters of the Russian Soyuz capsules currently employed by both Russian and American personnel on their way to the International Space Station.
Take a complete video tour of the SpaceX Dragon capsule below:
Featured image: Crew Dragon, America’s next generation crewed spacecraft is almost ready for a test flight. | SpaceX