SpaceX's Crew Dragon is about to launch humans into space for the first time, and the company is now giving fans to try out a key part of the mission at home.
The International Space Station docking simulator, released Tuesday, is a game for the web browser that gives fans the chance to try and dock with the space station. The game claims it uses the controls of the "actual interface" that NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will use for their mission, set for liftoff on May 27. While the capsule will dock and undock autonomously from the space station, the pair will have to be ready to take over the controls if necessary.
The game is harder than it looks. Players are required to get all the green readouts in the interface to below 0.2. Controls on the right control roll, pitch, and yaw, while controls on the left manage movements forward, backward, up, down, left, and right. Unlike the hyperspeed depictions of space seen in the likes of Star Wars, the simulator reminds players that movements in space are slow and precise.
Keep your eyes peeled for a fun easter egg, as spotted by Twitter user "PPathole" – a red Tesla Roadster floating in space, just like Elon Musk's one that was sent up in February 2018 in the Falcon Heavy test mission.
Another fun trick, as spotted by CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz, is the ability to make the Earth flat:
It's all part of the training process for the big mission. Hurley and Behnken have been undergoing similar training tests with the docking simulator, while SpaceX has adapted the interfaces over hundreds of hours of training to ensure they work correctly. Unlike spacecraft of yesteryear, the Crew Dragon is fitted with touchscreens that work both with and without the pair's spacesuit gloves equipped.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine also got to try out the simulator during the pair's tests. If you're looking for a standard to meet, Bridenstine did it on his first try.
The mission is another step toward NASA's grand plans for commercial spaceflight, where it aims to bring astronauts' trips to the International Space Station a little closer to home. Since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA has been sending astronauts to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, renting seats on Soyuz rockets from Russian space agency Roscosmos. SpaceX has been working alongside Boeing to develop a capsule that could send astronauts up from the United States.
The "Demo-2" Crew Dragon mission, the first manned flight in NASA's Commercial Crew program, will launch at 4:33 p.m. Eastern time on May 27, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission will use a Falcon 9 rocket, just like SpaceX uses for its commercial satellite launches.
For this mission, Hurley will be in charge of launching, landing and recovery. During an interview with Inverse last month, Hurley explained how the pair need to be ready to take over despite the autonomous features:
"Sitting in the commander seat, for Dragon, you're responsible all the way to that thing is docked with the station. Every phase of flight. Bob and I have trained a while with this vehicle, and that's our responsibility, to monitor and if it's available to take over manually if it's not going in the way it's supposed to."
The Inverse analysis – The game helps highlight just one aspect of this critical first mission. Although the capsule is autonomous, Hurley and Behnken will have to be ready to take over in case of an emergency. Hurley, who flew on the last shuttle mission in 2011, explained that the shuttle was also automatic for the most part. A successful launch will help pave the way for NASA to start sending crew members to the space station on a regular basis, and the team will have to prepare for every eventuality to ensure "Demo-2" goes according to plan.