July 23, 2013
The Future Face Of Space Travel? Astronauts Test Out Boeing’s New Spacecraft
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Astronauts climbed aboard The Boeing Company's CST-100 spacecraft on Monday, giving the world its first glance at what may be the face of future space travel.
NASA astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik slapped on their orange launch-and-entry suits and individually tested their maneuverability inside the capsule, while Boeing engineers monitored communications, equipment and ergonomics.
"These are our customers. They're the ones who will take our spacecraft into flight, and if we're not building it the way they want it we're doing something wrong," said Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing's Crew and Mission Operations and a former NASA astronaut. "We'll probably make one more go-around and make sure that everything is just the way they like it."
Boeing's CST-100 test vehicle was optimized to seat five crew members, but the spacecraft can accommodate up to seven or a mix of crew and cargo. The spacecraft resembles Apollo-era capsules, but its interior reflects modern technology, featuring ambient sky blue LED lighting and ubiquitous tablet technology.
"What you're not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches," said Ferguson. "When these guys go up in this, they're primary mission is not to fly this spacecraft, they're primary mission is to go to the space station for six months. So we don't want to burden them with an inordinate amount of training to fly this vehicle. We want it to be intuitive."
The CST-100 also has a weld-free design, modern structures and upgraded thermal protection techniques. Boeing said its spun-formed shell reduces the overall mass of the spacecraft as well as the time it takes to build the crew capsule.
"The astronauts always enjoy getting out and looking at the vehicles and sharing their experiences with these commercial providers," said Kathy Lueders, deputy manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP). "I'm really a looking forward to the day when we will be bringing our Expedition crew members home and I won't need a passport or a visa to go to the landing site and greet them as they come off the vehicle."
Boeing is one of three companies working with NASA's CCP to develop a new crew transportation system in order to make human spaceflight services available on American soil again. SpaceX is another company in the mix developing a future crew capsule. That company became the first to send a resupply capsule to the International Space Station (ISS).
Currently, the Dragon capsule is made to resupply the space station, but SpaceX is working on converting the capsule into a crew vessel. The company said, a few weeks ago, that it recently completed two milestone reviews needed to get its spacecraft ready for human flight.