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A first glimpse inside Boeing's commercial spacecraft

Elizabeth Howell, News Writer
Jul 23, 2013, 23:00 UTC

Sen—The first pictures of Boeing's new spacecraft, the Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 show how spacecraft design has evolved since the space shuttle was designed four decades ago.

Blue LEDs dot the interior, resembling the lighting that theatre-goers saw in Star Trek Into Darkness's Enterprise spacecraft this spring. Tablet technology is available. Most notable, though, is the absence of the usual wall-to-wall switches usually seen in human spacecraft.

"What you're not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches," stated Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing's crew and mission operations division and a former NASA astronaut.

"When these guys go up in this, their primary mission is not to fly this spacecraft. Their 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."

CST-100 interior

An interior view of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

Boeing is one of three companies receiving funding from NASA to develop crew transportation systems to the International Space Station. Officials have seen the spacecraft in action before, most notably in a few landing tests to see how well the parachutes and other systems perform. These pictures, however, are the first showing what the spacecraft looks on the inside.

On July 22, NASA astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik performed "fit checks" inside CST-100's interior. Donning launch and re-entry suits used for spaceflight, they evaluated how well the spacecraft inside accommodated their bulky outfits. Boeing engineers also monitored the astronauts for factors such as ergonomics and communications.

"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," stated Ferguson. "We'll probably make one more go-around and make sure that everything is just the way they like it."

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik outside the CST-100 spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

NASA is just one of the reference customers for the CST-100. Bigelow Aerospace, which is building an inflatable space station module for the International Space Station, is expected to use Boeing's spacecraft to ferry astronauts to future space inflatable space stations.

Boeing signed a Space Act agreement in 2012 with NASA for $460 million as part of the third phase - known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) - of funding under the agency's commercial crew program

SpaceX, whose Dragon spacecraft has completed two cargo resupply missions to the space station, received $440 million to modify Dragon for human spaceflight. Sierra Nevada Corp, the remaining company funded in this phase, got $212.5 million for its Dream Chaser winged spacecraft.

In recent weeks, NASA has expressed concern with a budget proposal in Congress to slash overall funding for the agency to $16.6 billion (£10.83 billion). Media reports have said this is the smallest budget in terms of purchasing power for the agency since 1986.

Should that budgetary level be approved, NASA says it will likely have to delay implementation of its commercial crew program. This would force the agency to continue relying on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to man the International Space Station, a practice that began after the shuttle was retired in 2011.