SpaceX's Crew Dragon is preparing for lift-off, and a new set of photos show the impressive capsule gearing up for its manned debut.
The three images, shared Thursday on the firm's official Twitter account, show the sleek capsule mounted onto the Falcon 9 booster. The pair is located in the hangar at Launch Complex 39A, the part of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where SpaceX will undertake its momentous launch. The launch is scheduled for May 27 at 4:33 p.m. Eastern time.
It's a big moment for both SpaceX and the wider history of spaceflight. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first two astronauts to fly with the Crew Dragon, traveling to the International Space Station for an as-yet-undetermined length of time. It could mark the start of a new series of spaceflights, where NASA uses private commercial spaceflight firms to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
The switch is much needed. Since the shuttle program completed its last flight in 2011 – one that Hurley flew on – NASA has been flying on Soyuz rockets taking off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The agency has been renting seats from Russian agency Roscosmos at around $80 million per seat. The NASA Commercial Crew program, which encompasses SpaceX and Boeing, is aimed at bringing these trips a little closer to home.
The Crew Dragon, pictured below, could be the first to fly under this new arrangement.
The capsule has been mounted on a Falcon 9 bearing the NASA "worm" logo, the first time the logo has been used since 1992.
The Crew Dragon first arrived in Florida in February. It was moved last week, after completing its stay at a processing facility.
Behnken and Hurley will be ferried to the capsule itself on launch day using a Tesla Model X emblazoned with the NASA logo. The pair are expected to prepare the seven days ahead of the flight in preparation.
When it returns, the capsule likely won't look so pristine. The Crew Dragon first flew to the International Space Station in March 2019, under the "Demo-1" mission. Along with cargo for scientific experiments, the capsule also carried a dummy called "Ripley," fitted out with a series of sensors designed to understand how the human body would react when flying in Crew Dragon. When it returned to Earth, the capsule looked decidedly scorched.
Ahead of the big trip, Behnken and Hurley have been practicing with simulations of the capsule's on-board controls. The capsule is designed to dock with the space station autonomously, but interior touchscreens that are designed to work with the suit's gloves will enable Hurley to take over at a moment's notice. The team will need to be prepared for any eventuality.
Once the mission is complete, SpaceX will be able to start planning for its first non-test manned mission. Beyond Crew Dragon, it's also designing the Starship designed to send up to 100 humans into space at a time.
The Inverse analysis – The Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon both look pristine ahead of the launch. In just a few days, SpaceX's concept art of what flying with Crew Dragon will be like will come to fruition.
It begs the question of which SpaceX concept video will come to life next. One contender could be the Starship video for landing on Mars. Another could be the Starship inter-Earth trips that provide travel across the Earth in just under an hour. The firm's most exciting days may be still to come.