Innovation

Inspiration4: Incredible video shows landmark moment on SpaceX Crew Dragon

SpaceX's human-carrying capsule packs a fascinating new feature, and the Inspiration4 crew took it for a spin.

Inspiration4, the first all-civilian spaceflight to orbit, got an out-of-this-world view during their trip.

On Tuesday, passenger Sian Proctor shared a video on Twitter of the moment when the team first opened the SpaceX Crew Dragon’s cupola to see the Earth below. The video shows the team lost for words, as Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30” (the theme song from the science fiction classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey) plays in the background.

The footage captures one of the pivotal moments in SpaceX’s history. This was the company’s third crewed mission and the first that didn’t send its passengers to the International Space Station. SpaceX replaced the ISS dock with a 360-degree glass dome, dubbed the cupola, to give passengers a stunning view of the planet below.

That means this was the first time anyone had seen the Earth through SpaceX’s new window to the heavens. It’s perhaps a moment when they experienced the “overview effect,” referring to space travelers overcome with a sense of awe as they witness the Earth from a distance, a small blue dot in outer space.

As the company prepares for further crewed missions, some of which may also skip the ISS, it could be the first of many. As SpaceX aims to open up space to even more people, the cupola demonstrates how the company is thinking ahead to how these new customers will want to experience space.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon: the cupola in action

The video shows the team gradually opening the hatch to the cupola. Hayley Arcenaux quickly pulls out supplies as the hatch opens but looks up in awe as the view comes into focus.

“Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30” had a particular symbology to space fans, as Stanley Kubrick used it in his space epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the BBC’s used it as music for the Apollo landings.

Proctor’s post teased the final episode of Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space. The documentary chronicles the groundbreaking mission with camera crews filming throughout the year. The fifth and final episode, the first released after the mission, is scheduled for September 30.

SpaceX Crew Dragon: what comes next

SpaceX built the Crew Dragon capsule as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program. NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to develop human-carrying vehicles that could replace the space shuttle, which until 2011 was used to transport NASA astronauts to and from the ISS.

But commercial, private missions were always part of the plan. Garrett Reisman, former NASA astronaut who managed the SpaceX team that developed the Crew Dragon, told Inverse this month that NASA noted in early meetings “about how we can use these vehicles for other missions.”

SpaceX has big plans to continue from here. It’s working with Axiom Space to launch its first private mission to the ISS no earlier than January 2022. The Ax-1 mission is expected to be the first of many missions, with a new one scheduled to launch approximately every six months.

The cupola could also make an appearance again relatively soon. In February 2020, Space Adventures announced plans to send up to four passengers on a trip to orbit sometime between late 2021 and mid-2022.

This mission would not visit the ISS. As the capsule would not require an ISS dock, it could mean the cupola makes another appearance.

But SpaceX is already testing the vehicle that could replace the Crew Dragon. The Starship, the under-development rocket, aims to launch up to 100 people or 100 tons into space at a time.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared in February 2020 an image of how Starship could be used to host zero-gravity concertos during these missions.

Musk's Twitter post.Elon Musk/Twitter

As the company continues work on its rocket, the Crew Dragon cupola could be a small glimpse of what’s to come.

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