SpaceX Crew Dragon simulator lets you dock with the ISS, and it's not easy

Do you have the right stuff needed to safely dock NASA astronauts to the space station? I don't.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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The SpaceX Crew Dragon docking simulator can be challenging.

Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

It's a good thing I'm not on board the historic SpaceX Crew Dragon launch to the International Space Station scheduled for May 27. It turns out I suck at piloting a spacecraft. 

SpaceX released a docking simulator online Tuesday that lets anyone try to safely connect the crew capsule with the ISS. Spoiler alert: I missed. 

"This simulator will familiarize you with the controls of the actual interface used by NASA astronauts to manually pilot the SpaceX Dragon 2 vehicles to the International Space Station," SpaceX said, warning that the process "requires patience and precision." I had neither. 

My attempt at the delicate dance of control and corrections didn't go well. "Do not use large movements near the ISS," SpaceX advised. I'm pretty sure I accidentally crashed into one of the ISS solar arrays.

Fortunately, the upcoming SpaceX Demo-2 mission will be crewed by NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who are trained experts at this whole complicated docking thing. 

The astronauts probably won't have to call on their training. "Crew Dragon missions will autonomously dock and undock with the space station, but crew can take manual control of the spacecraft if necessary," SpaceX tweeted.    

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine also took to Twitter on Tuesday to remind everyone that he aced the simulator on his first try last year. Show-off.

The crewed Dragon mission is part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which intends to bring ISS astronaut launches back to US soil for the first time since the end of the space shuttle era in 2011. 

The real control system inside the capsule uses touch screens that can be operated while wearing SpaceX spacesuit gloves, but astronauts also have an option for physical manual controls, NASA said in a statement on Tuesday.

My virtual Crew Dragon is currently floating somewhere off to the side of the ISS. I have given up on being able to bring it in for a safe docking, and I'll be perfectly content to sit back and let the real astronauts handle the ISS later this month. 

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