SpaceX has published the first photos of the interior of the US-built spacecraft scheduled to launch NASA astronauts for the first time in almost a decade.
Set to lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than (NET) mid-to-late May, SpaceX is on the cusp of the most important and historic launch in its storied history. If things go as planned, Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission could make SpaceX the first company in history to launch humans into orbit with a privately-built rocket and spacecraft. Even more significantly, it will be the United States’ first domestic astronaut launch since Congress and the White House prematurely canceled NASA’s Space Shuttle in 2011.
Since then, the US has relied exclusively on a total of 34 increasingly expensive Russian Soyuz spacecraft launches and is likely to purchase a handful of additional seats for more than $85 million apiece. Thanks to the Commercial Crew Program, despite several years of delays, NASA will soon be able to launch its own astronauts once again. While Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – at ~$90 million per seat – is expected to cost NASA more than Russia’s price-gouged Soyuz offerings, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will likely be closer to $55 million per seat, potentially saving NASA tens of millions of dollars for each astronaut it launches. Now, photos posted by NASA have revealed the first glimpses inside the cabin of SpaceX’s first astronaut-ready Crew Dragon.
Unsurprisingly, the first photos taken inside an astronaut-ready Crew Dragon capsule show that SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California-based simulator is nearly identical where it matters. Over the last ~18 months, NASA astronauts assigned to SpaceX’s first several Crew Dragon launches having been training almost non-stop to learn the ropes of operating and flying in the company’s first human-rated spacecraft. Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, set to support Crew Dragon’s historic astronaut launch debut, have rightfully taken up most of the limelight as they ready for what is technically the spacecraft’s riskiest mission.
SpaceX has offered views inside Crew Dragon during its Demo-1 orbital launch debut in March 2019 but the spacecraft was uncrewed and had no display and control module installed, leaving its interior partially incomplete.
Now, NASA says that the Crew Dragon spacecraft assigned to SpaceX’s Demo-2 astronaut launch is “is undergoing final testing and prelaunch processing” a few miles from its Kennedy Space Center launch site. That process is reportedly “kicking off more simulations, final crew training, and flight readiness reviews”, some of which likely involved NASA’s Demo-2 astronauts boarding and inspecting a fully-complete Crew Dragon capsule for the first time.
Meanwhile, back at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A (Pad 39A), NASA posted SpaceX’s latest photos of the Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to launch the space agency’s astronauts just two or so months from now. A brand new booster an expendable Falcon 9 upper stage will support the mission, with B1058 scheduled to attempt a landing aboard drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) a handful of minutes after liftoff. Posted on April 2nd, NASA also revealed that the booster has been fitted with the space agency’s ‘worm’ logo, its first official use since it was retired almost three decades ago.
In short, everything is quite literally coming together for SpaceX’s historic astronaut launch debut. NASA maintains that Demo-2 is scheduled to lift off no earlier than “mid-to-late May”, now just 6-8 weeks distant.