SpaceX has its first passenger crews all picked out, their flight dates are set, and now it's time to prepare them for the trip to space. On Monday, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell hosted the first four NASA astronauts who will be riding into space on the company's new passenger spacecraft, the Crew Dragon, which is being built for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. And the company gave press their first peek at the tools the astronauts will use to train for these inaugural flights.
Now that the crews are official, the astronauts will be working with SpaceX over the upcoming months and years to prepare for their trips. The Crew Dragon is SpaceX's ship — not NASA's — so SpaceX is also the one providing the necessary training equipment for the vehicle. These include two major pieces of simulation hardware that will familiarize astronauts with the inside of the capsule, and SpaceX had them on display on Monday.
A view inside the Crew Dragon capsule simulator.
The first setup is one for the commander and the pilot. It consists of the two center seats that will be inside the capsule as well as the touchscreen and button interface that the astronauts will interact with during flight. In signature SpaceX style, everything is as sleek and streamlined as possible. There are only a few dozen actual buttons that the astronauts can push, most of which are only to be used during emergency scenarios. For instance, astronauts must press a real button to help suppress a fire.
A cockpit simulator of the three touchscreens and buttons that the commander and pilot will access during flight.
All other interactions are meant to happen on the capsule's three touchscreens, which will respond to the crews' touch through their spacesuit gloves. The main purpose of the screens is to provide orbital flight tracking. Astronauts will be able to adjust the displays to look at different views of the Earth, showing where their capsule is located on the trip to orbit. They also have the option to switch to an attitude control view on the screens, which will allow them to manually steer the Crew Dragon in space. A simple tap will ignite the vehicle's thrusters, slightly altering its course. That shouldn't be necessary, though, as the Crew Dragon is meant to automatically dock with the space station. But the option is there if needed.
However, there's one key part of the interface that is neither a button nor a touchscreen command. It's a large handle in the center of the console with the word "EJECT" next to it. It's something that the astronauts will hopefully never need to touch. But if the rocket carrying the Crew Dragon were to malfunction during flight, astronauts can twist and pull this handle, igniting engines on board the capsule that will carry them away from danger. The handle is meant to be the last line of defense for astronauts. SpaceX has programmed the ship's onboard computer to detect any anomalies that would require a speedy escape, hopefully preempting the need for astronauts to intervene.