SpaceX’s manned launches are taking one step closer to reality. New images published this week shows how Elon Musk’s space-faring firm is preparing to send its first humans into space on the new Crew Dragon capsule. The flights, alongside missions planned with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, will be the first to send American astronauts into space on board a commercial spacecraft.
The somewhat grainy images, alongside ones captured by Teslarati images, are a big glimpse of the walkway at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex pad 39A. The Crew Access Arm is set to complete installation by the end of August, ahead of planned missions as early as April 2019. The missions will send NASA scientists to and from the International Space Station, a critical function as the agency retired the shuttle program in 2011 and the current contract to use Russia’s Soyuz craft will expire in November 2019. Earlier this month, NASA released images of the first nine astronauts on these Boeing and SpaceX flights, with the astronauts set for the latter mission meeting the SpaceX team earlier this week.
The pieces are falling into place for SpaceX’s next mission. The company has unveiled the full spacesuit, complete with 3D printed helmet. It showed interior and exterior images of the new capsule, a reconfiguration of the Dragon cargo pod that’s been sending deliveries to the space station since 2012. It’s also completed testing in a wave-absorbing anechoic chamber to check for electromagnetic interference.
The four lucky astronauts that will walk down the pictured arm are Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins. Missouri native Behnken has undertaken six spacewalks, and he’ll be flying with New York native Hurley on the test flight. Both have worked as astronauts since 2000. For the first mission, first-time astronaut Glover will be joined by two-time spacewalker Hopkins, who has completed 166 days at the International Space Station.
Musk has suggested the first manned flight could occur as soon as April 2019. That would enable NASA to continue operations with no gaps after the Soyuz contract expires, but the Government Accountability Office has suggested a more likely date for certification would be January 2020.
The race is on to keep scientific operations running at the space station.