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Boeing Unveils Test Version of Next Space Capsule

Jul 23, 2013 12:28 PM EDT
This image depicts the interior of The Boeing Company's CST-100 spacecraft, which features LED lighting and tablet technology.

(Photo : NASA/Robert Markowitz)

Boeing threw back the curtain Monday on its proposed spacecraft designed to shuttle NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

Called Crew Space Transportation-100 (CST-100), the capsule's Hershey kiss shape hails back to the iconic Apollo command module.

Inside, however, it's a whole new world.

Whether it's the ambient sky blue LED lighting or the move toward tablet technology, the CST-100 is a product of a the 21st century. And with the advanced technology, its creators explain, comes an easier-to-handle design.

"What you're not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches," Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing's Crew and Mission Operations and former NASA astronaut, said in a press release. "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."

Other innovative elements of the CST-100 are its weld-free design and upgraded thermal protection techniques. The company said that its spun-formed shell reduces the overall mass of the spacecraft as well as the time it takes to build the crew capsule.

In addition to opening up the event to the media, two NASA astronauts were able to conduct flight suit evaluations inside the module during the event.

"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).

These experiences, Ferguson said, are crucial to the company's design and manufacturing process.

"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," he said.

Among the things astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik tested was their maneuverability inside the capsule. Meanwhile, Boeing engineers monitored communications, equipment and ergonomics.

Boeing is currently one of three companies working with CCP to develop crew transportation systems as a part of NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, which, according to NASA, is intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for government and commercial customers.

Recently, NASA has relied on the company SpaceX during resupply missions for the ISS and on Russia for ferrying different crews back and forth from it -- the latter of which has proved to be an expensive option.

"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," Lueders said.

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