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SpaceX Crew Dragon astronaut: A chance meeting in the desert

In August 2015, I was out in the Yuma, AZ desert watching a NASA Mars Orion Space capsule drop from a C-17 in a parachute test. That’s when I first met NASA Astronaut Victor Glover.

Figure 1

Astronaut Victor Glover (L) and Editor Steve Taranovich (R) (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

Astronaut Victor Glover (L) and Editor Steve Taranovich (R) (Image courtesy of Loretta Taranovich)

I remember saying to him, “So, are you excited about the opportunity to go to Mars?” and he replied, “The astronauts that will be going to Mars are in grammar school right now.”

Little did we know at that time that Glover would be assigned to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon on the first post-certification mission along with NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins. See Figure 2. This will be part of a new series of the first human launches from the USA since 2011.

Figure 2

NASA Astronauts Victor Glover (L) and Mike Hopkins (R) (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

NASA Astronauts Victor Glover (L) and Mike Hopkins (R) (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

Figure 3

The Crew Dragon space capsule has four windows and is fitted with highest-grade Carbon fiber and Italian Alcantara faux, soft suede, microfiber fabric which is used in high-end automobiles for a comfortable trip into space. Alcantara is both lighter and more durable than natural suede. (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

The Crew Dragon space capsule has four windows and is fitted with highest-grade Carbon fiber and Italian Alcantara faux, soft suede, microfiber fabric which is used in high-end automobiles for a comfortable trip into space. Alcantara is both lighter and more durable than natural suede. (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

While on board Crew Dragon, astronauts can adjust the spacecraft’s interior temperature to a comfortable 65o F to 80o F range in this comfortable and safe environment. See Figure 4.

Figure 4

All the comforts of a luxury automobile and more (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

All the comforts of a luxury automobile and more (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

The spacecraft is a fully autonomous system which can also optionally be monitored and controlled by the astronauts as well as SpaceX mission control based in Hawthorne, CA. See Figure 5.

Figure 5

A Space autonomous Vehicle (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

A Space autonomous Vehicle (Image courtesy of SpaceX)

Crew Dragon Pad Abort safety feature

The spacecraft’s launch abort system (a.k.a. launch escape system) is designed to get the crew and spacecraft quickly away from the rocket in the event of a potential failure. It is somewhat like an ejection seat for a fighter pilot; the main difference is that the entire spacecraft is “ejected” away from the launch vehicle.

This system looks like an improvement on prior launch abort systems which were powered by a rocket tower mounted on top of the spacecraft. During an emergency, the tower would ignite and essentially pull the spacecraft to safety. This OK as long as the spacecraft is still on the launch pad or only a few minutes into its ascent, but once the vehicle reaches a certain altitude, the system is no longer useful and must be discarded.

The SpaceX launch abort system design is integrated directly into the spacecraft. So, the Crew Dragon will have launch escape capability from the launch pad all the way into orbit.

Older abort systems had a rocket tower mounted on top of the spacecraft, but SpaceX’s launch abort system design uses eight SuperDraco rocket engines built into the walls of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The SuperDracos are capable of producing 120,000 pounds of axial thrust in less than one second, which results in transporting the Crew Dragon spacecraft nearly 100 meters (328 ft) in two seconds, and more than half a kilometer (1/3 mile) in just over 5 seconds.

While Dragon is making preparations to carry humans for the first time, the spacecraft continues to make regular trips to the International Space Station (ISS) carrying cargo under SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. At present, Dragon is the only spacecraft flying that is capable of returning significant amounts of cargo to Earth as well.

Safe flying Victor! I know you are looking forward to your first ride into space as a new explorer. I’ll be watching your momentous flight

Stay tuned for more of my exciting space-related articles on Planet Analog as well as on EDN.

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