On Monday, Space X invited the press to its factory in Hawthorne, California for an astronaut event, marking the first time SpaceX invited reporters inside in about four years. The last time it happened, Elon Musk had unveiled the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The event was hosted by Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX, alongside NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who make up the crew of the company’s first human mission. She also introduced Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover, the crew members for the second flight of the Dragon. Out of lal four, Glover is the only rookie astronaut on the team.
During the event, the engineers guided the reporters from display to display, even inside a mock-up of the crew Dragon spacecraft, which is bigger and more comfortable than NASA’s Soyuz spacecraft that they normally use to ride up to the ISS.
The stars of the show though were the two cockpit simulators, which SpaceX had never shown to the public before. The space shuttle has over 1,000 buttons and switches, but the Dragon capsule sports just three flat screens and two rows of buttons that rest beneath them.
The flat screens display only the controls that are necessary during flight and they are basically the primary interface that the astronauts operate within the vehicle. The buttons below, 38 altogether, provide back-up control for the spacecraft. The buttons that rest beneath the clear panels are intended to hopefully never be used, as they mark the third – and final- option after the touch screens and ground control.
There is also a large black and red handle that rests in the middle of the dashboard, with the word “EJECT” printed in white letters above it. It obviously puts in motion the escape system which pulls the spacecraft away from the rocket in case of emergency. This system only works before the spacecraft reaches orbit, and, once in space, pulling it would not achieve anything.
There was also a tour of the Dragon simulator, which the four astronauts train in on a weekly basis. They fly everything from regular missions to emergency scenarios such as losing cabin pressure.
Obviously, all the tests are repeated a million times over, but even so, regardless of preparation, there is no guarantee everything will go according to plan in space. The only way to actually achieve what they and the other 7,000 SpaceX employees have set out to do is to just fly out and leave it in the hands of fate, knowing that everything has been planned for to the best of their abilities.
The reporters asked the astronauts present a myriad of questions but the event in itself served as a reminder that there will be real humans, with families and hobbies, who will climb up into the Dragon spacecraft and touch the Cosmos.
(Gallery Images: Eric Berger)