The Crew Dragon, SpaceX’s human-carrying capsule, has redefined spaceflight in more ways than one.

An image shared on the “SpaceXLounge” subreddit showed how the new capsule compares to NASA’s old space shuttle. The image compares the shuttle as it appeared for its final mission in 2011, alongside the Crew Dragon’s interior for its 2020 mission­čĹç­čĆ╝.

Nine years later, it seems the spacecraft of the future is a whole lot sleeker. Gone are the dials and switches of yesteryear. In its place is a series of LCD touchscreen displays, operatable using the SpaceX suit’s gloves. Where the space shuttle looked like a complicated pilot’s cabin, the Crew Dragon looks a whole lot more like a movie set’s interpretation of what a spaceship should look like.

Doug Hurley using the new Crew Dragon’s systems. Source: Nasa/flickr

Perhaps little wonder, then, that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has a fondness for space-based science fiction novels.

The comparison demonstrates one of the biggest visual differences in how NASA will send humans into space. The iconic space shuttle took its first flight in 1981, and until 2011 was used to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. When the program ended, NASA started renting seats on Soyuz rockets from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The NASA Commercial Crew program is aimed at starting a new era for its space operations. Working alongside SpaceX and Boeing, the program is aimed at creating a new means of sending NASA astronauts to the space station. The Crew Dragon is the first capsule from the program to send a human into space, an achievement it set when it sent up astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on May 30, 2020. 

Hurley was also on the last space shuttle mission, dubbed STS-135. That mission took off on July 8, 2011.

Hurley is pictured alongside fellow astronaut Chris Ferguson on the second day of the flight.
Source: Nasa/Flickr

Hurley and Behnken took off to the space station using the new Crew Dragon last month. The screens give an overview of important information, while also enabling the team to take over the otherwise-autonomous docking process if necessary.

SpaceX engineers explained in a Reddit discussionover the weekend that the computers powering the screens use Chromium and JavaScript. These are technologies normally associated with the world wide web, but here they’re used to serve up the impressive interface. Ahead of the flight, SpaceX launched an in-browser game version of the docking process to enable fans to give it a try at home.

Space shuttle Discovery

While the two vehicles look radically different, their operation may not be as different as it seems. During an interview with Inverse last month, Hurley explained the difference between the two:

“In this case it’s quite a bit different because, from an entry perspective, a capsule, as well as shuttle, you adjust the heat shield such that it absorbs the plasma as you’re re-entering, and that is done automatically by Crew Dragon. Shuttle was also automatic for the most part, but we could fly it manually in the phase of flight as well. And then we have some ability, depending on if there are certain failures, to be able to deploy the chutes manually, both the drogues and the main. But with a capsule landing in the water, obviously the precision of where you’re landing is not quite as great as it was with the shuttle where you absolutely needed to land on a runway, and a big runway at that.”

By Duderinaldi

I'm an all-rounded digital strategist, currently heading Digital Innovation at the iconic luxury brand Versace. Since 2018 I've extended my scope beyond Marketing supporting both Industrial Operations and Corporate in complex digital transformation projects with a strong track record of efficient, sustainable and business value-increasing initiatives.
My background includes over 12 years in globally-renowned integrated agencies with focus on planning, strategic execution, digital communication and consumer experience for a wide range of brands and product categories such as Ford Motor Company, Toyota, Adidas, Jaguar & Land Rover, Mattel, Sony Playstation, Vodafone, Sky, Procter & Gamble and Microsoft.

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