Ride to orbit aboard SpaceX's Dragon capsule (photos)
Testing the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Dragon capsule, a spacecraft intended to carry astronauts to the International Space Station or other low Earth orbit destinations.
Peering out an open hatch
SpaceX's flight capsule, Dragon, is already contracted to fly 12 cargo-only missions to the space station, and just last year the spacecraft became the first commercially developed spacecraft to return from Earth orbit.
Last week, NASA astronauts began getting up close with the spacecraft they may fly aboard in the future. Work is now under way to send humans into space aboard the Dragon to the ISS and possibly further. In 2011, NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) signed a Space Act Agreement with SpaceX to enhance Dragon's capabilities to include the transportation of humans to the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit destinations and potentially your next vacation.
Recently SpaceX invited NASA into its factory in Hawthorne, Calif., to check out a prototype of the Dragon crew capsule, modified for humans with with seats, lighting, environmental controls, life support systems, displays, cargo racks, and mock control panels.
Here, NASA astronaut Rex Walheim peers out an open hatch in the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.
During a visit to the SpaceX factory in Hawthorne, Calif., NASA astronauts and flight experts check out the seven-person seating crew quarters in SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft.
On top, from left, are NASA Crew Survival Engineering Team Lead Dustin Gohmert, NASA astronauts Tony Antonelli and Lee Archambault, and SpaceX Mission Operations Engineer Laura Crabtree. On bottom, from left, are SpaceX Thermal Engineer Brenda Hernandez and NASA astronauts Rex Walheim and Tim Kopra.
SpaceX and NASA conducted a review of the Dragon crew vehicle layout using the Dragon engineering model equipped with seats and representations of crew systems.
Last week, SpaceX announced that it is preparing for an April 30 launch of a mission dubbed COTS 2/3, with plans for docking with the International Space Station on May 3. SpaceX has already contracted two cargo missions for this year, the first of which is tentatively scheduled for July.
There are 16 flights scheduled through 2015, but the upcoming COTS 2/3 mission to the International Space Station will show whether the company has the backbone to support commercial space missions going forward.