SpaceX Will Send People To The ISS, And The Ship They Built Is So Sci-Fi Sleek

A model of the Crew Dragon capsule shows the actual size and shape of the space the astronauts will ride in. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

NASA is partnering with two companies to start flying to the International Space Station and one those companies is Hawthorne-based SpaceX, owned by tech/Tesla/Boring Company magnate Elon Musk.

Our Take Two team roadtripped to SpaceX to learn more about the Crew Dragon spacecraft and meet some of the first astronauts who'll be flying commercial.

SpaceX has put their signature, modernized style into many of the elements of the Crew Dragon, right down to the space suits the astronauts will wear.

Their streamlined design makes them noticeably different from their bulky predecessors.

The ultra-modern looking SpaceX space suits will be custom fit for each astronaut riding Crew Dragon (Photo by Emily Henderson)

"We've had experience wearing all these suits and I think SpaceX tried to improve on all those things we complained about," said astronaut Doug Hurley, who will fly on SpaceX's manned Demo Two test flight.

"One is they're really big, really heavy, they have a lot of metal in them. Sometimes it's hard to see exactly where you need to see just because of the way the helmets are designed or the visors are designed. And so [SpaceX] took some of those inputs and designed their suit."

From left, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover speak during a tour of SpaceX in Hawthorne. (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

The Crew Dragon itself is quite different than the ships they've flown in — like the Russian Soyuz.

"[The Soyuz] was designed back in the '50s, '60s time period," said astronaut Mike Hopkins. "They've upgraded it over the years so it's a very reliable vehicle, but I think what's exciting about this [Crew Dragon] is they've started from scratch ... with today's technology so it's built into the vehicle, versus having to build onto the vehicle."

As a SoCal local, astronaut Victor Glover was particularly excited to be working with SpaceX. He was born in Pomona, went to college in San Louis Obispo, and trained at Edwards Air Force Base.

"It makes it even more special," he said. "If I was going to Russia to train to fly a Soyuz to the space station, I'd be thrilled so this just adds a layer to it that we're going to come out here quite a bit to work with these great folks and be a part of this hum."

The astronauts train in a couple different simulators to prepare for launch. The cockpit simulator is set up like the real cockpit to give the astronauts a chance to get used to the touch screens they'll see on board. The screens let them monitor information about the ship and its flight and control things like the cockpit temperature.

Even the simulators are sleek and modern — the mostly white minimalist interior had serious 2001: A Space Odyssey vibes.

There are also buttons and controls for the astronauts to take over and pilot the ship, but that's only in case of emergency.

A different capsule simulator lets astronauts practice moving around a space that sized and shaped like the acutal Crew Dragon.

The simulators are used to run tests to make sure the astronauts can easily access everything they need, read all the monitors, and work through any emergencies that may arise.

Inside the capsule simulator the astronauts can sit as they'll be positioned during their ride on the actual Crew Dragon (Photo by Emily Henderson/LAist)

"We always ask ourselves would you fly in this and more would you put your family on this vehicle, would you put your family on this system," said Benji Reed, the director of Crew Mission Management.

And humans beings won't actually be launched for a while. This November the Demo One test launch is scheduled. That will be and unmanned flight, but it will give the design team a chance to collect more valuable data about what the astronauts will experience in space, like what it will sound like in the cockpit.

The Demo Two test launch with astronauts will happen around April 2019. The actual mission to the ISS will follow, but a date is not set.

Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's Take Two.


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