The NASA astronauts aren’t nervous for their next trip to space. They’ve been in the job for almost two decades, and they served as military pilots before that. Together, they’ve spent nearly 1,400 hours in orbit above Earth.
But they’ve never had a ride quite like this.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are training for their first flight on a new astronaut-transportation system built by SpaceX, and as early as this summer could launch into the sky in a capsule named Dragon. The interior of the capsule is black and white, with clean lines and cushy seats. A triptych of touch screens, compatible with space-suit gloves, displays important information. The cabin is spacious enough to seat seven.
Decades after the first people reached Earth’s orbit, the physics of getting to space hasn’t changed. Neither have the dangers. But the aesthetics have.
The astronauts stress that the safety of the launch vehicle matters most, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t impressed. “It’s an incredibly sleek-looking vehicle from the inside,” Hurley told me.
When the United States and the Soviet Union began sending astronauts and cosmonauts to space, capsules were small and cramped. Control panels brimming with switches, buttons, and levers covered nearly every inch of the interior. Life-support systems and other equipment crowded the single seat. If there were any nooks and crannies, they were crammed with wires. NASA astronauts, who couldn’t be more than 6 feet tall to fit inside, joked that “you don’t get in it, you put it on.”