SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule perched on pad ahead of first orbital flight

SpaceX has been sending its unmanned Dragon spacecraft on resupply missions to the International Space Station since 2012, and now a version decked out for human rides is edging closer to joining in the fun. The company has lifted its Crew Dragon capsule into the air above the launchpad in Florida, with its first ever unmanned orbital test flight said to be around a month away.

Crew Dragon is taken from the same blueprint as SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, but with a cabin modified for more comfortable human travel. That means carbon fiber seating dressed in Alcantara cloth, four windows for panoramic views of space and climate control.

While the Crew Dragon’s path to space has been delayed several times, its first foray into orbit is now tantalizingly close for the SpaceX team. Though it was at one time floated as the vehicle to carry the company’s first tourists to the Moon, the Crew Dragon will initially be used to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

As you would expect, the spacecraft will need to carry out a series of test flights before any humans hop aboard. The first jaunt into space – called Demo-1 – was hoped to take place today, but the launch of this first orbital test flight has now been pushed back at least a few weeks.

What we do get a look at today is the Crew Dragon standing proudly on the pad at Launch Complex 39A atop at Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX has also built a new astronaut walkway for boarding, which can be seen leading to the capsule in the hero image at the top of the article.

If all goes to plan, SpaceX will follow Demo-1 flight with unmanned abort tests to demonstrate how it can handle a launch emergency on the pad or in early flight. NASA said in November that it expects the first manned flights of Crew Dragon to take place in June. The first unmanned orbital test flight, however, is “about a month away,” according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

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