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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.

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Enjoying the ride aboard the 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.

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Reviewing the Dragon crew vehicle

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.

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NASA astronauts are monitored during Dragon testing

While inside the modified Dragon test capsule at a SpaceX facility, NASA astronauts are monitored via video as they interact with newly installed crew accommodations on board.

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Dragon spacecraft after being recovered from Earth's orbit

The first operational Dragon spacecraft is seen here after being recovered from Earth's orbit. SpaceX became the first private company to ever accomplish such an orbit and recovery mission in 2010.

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Grab a seat aboard SpaceX's Dragon

With all seven crew members in their seats, seen here empty, Dragon has plenty of additional space for SpaceX staff to assist the crew during launch preparations.

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SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif., has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to provide 12 cargo flights to the station for delivery of more than 44,000 pounds of equipment and supplies.

Elon Musk, seen here examining the Dragon spacecraft, said today that he hopes to be able to take people on a round-trip to Mars for $500,000 signals a much better deal.

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