The SpaceX Dragon's Historic Date with ISS

Categories: Missions

Station Astronauts Say Dragon is Plenty Roomy for Hauling Big Crews to Orbit

NASA astronaut Don Pettit (left), European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andre Kuipers (center) and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba (right) speak to reporters on May 26, 2012 from inside the Dragon capsule soon after opening the hatch from the ISS. Credit: NASA TV

Just how many astronauts can you cram inside a Dragon? – think Volkswagen Beetle!

Well at least 6 human space flyers can easily fit inside a SpaceX Dragon vehicle, said NASA Astronaut Don Pettit from aboard the ISS during a Q & A session with reporters on Saturday, May 26. The discussion with the media took place only hours after Pettit’s history making hatch opening to the first private space capsule ever to dock at the International Space Station (ISS).

“We’ve already had all 6 people in here for a brief period,” Pettit told Universe Today during the media session on Saturday, soon after the hatch opening. “We haven’t taken any pictures of all 6 [together] yet.”

The three current station residents who played the key roles in the milestone events of grappling the Dragon cargo resupply craft with the station’s robotic arm and parking it at an open port on the Harmony Node 2 module on Friday, May 25, spoke to reporters while floating inside Dragon for about 20 minutes all told – including Pettit, ESA Astronaut Andre Kuipers and newly arrived fellow NASA astronaut Joe Acaba.

Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi… Credit: Andre Kuipers/ESA/NASA

“There’s not enough room in here to hold a barn dance, but for transportation of crew up and down through Earth’s atmosphere and into space, which is a rather short period of time, there’s plenty of room in here for the envisioned crews,” Pettit told me while soaring some 400 kilometers (250 miles) above Earth.

Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft to attach to the ISS and was built by SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

All three crew members seemed quite pleased with the Dragon’s layout and quite willing to fly aboard a human rated version in the future. SpaceX is designing Dragon to be capable of carrying 7 passengers in the crew configuration – and it looked spacious to me during the media briefing.

“I spent quite a bit of time poking around in here this morning, just looking at the engineering and the layout, and I’m very pleased,” said Pettit. “It looks like it carries about as much cargo as I could put in my pickup truck. And it’s roomier than a Soyuz, so flying up in a human-rated Dragon is not going to be an issue.”

The gumdrop shaped Dragon capsule is 4.4 meters (14.4 ft) tall, and 3.66 m (12 ft) in diameter. It has an internal pressurized volume of about 350 cubic feet

A SpaceX Dragon capsule prepares to dock with the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

On this first NASA sponsored test flight to rendezvous and dock at the ISS it was packed with 460 kilograms (1014 lbs) of non-critical cargo including 306 kg (674 lbs) of food and crew provisions; 21 kg (46 lbs) of science experiment; 123 kg (271 lbs) prepositioned cargo bags to be used for future flights; and 10 kg (22 lbs) of assorted computer supplies and a laptop.

Dragon will remain berthed at the million pound orbiting outpost for about 6 days until it is detached on May 31 for a return trip to Earth and splashdown and retrieval in the Pacific Ocean a few hundred km (mi) off the coast of California.

The Dragon launched flawlessly atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 booster on May 19 from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Since the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet in July 2011 and for at least the next 3 to 5 years, the only way U.S. astronauts can reach the ISS is aboard ferry flights on the cramped three person Russian Soyuz capsule at a cost of some $60 million per seat to U.S. taxpayers.

SpaceX is one of four private companies receiving NASA funding under the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program and seeking to develop commercial “space taxis” to low Earth orbit.

A human-rated Dragon is one of the vehicles engaged in the on-going competition and vying for a NASA contract. But the first crewed flight to restore US human spaceflight capability has been delayed by years because of repeated slashes to NASA’s budget by the US Congress.

NASA now estimates that the first space taxi – possibly the SpaceX Dragon – won’t fly until about 2017.