Elon Musk's SpaceX has had plenty of memorable milestones, not the least of which came in 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft become the first commercial vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. Of course, that was just the beginning for SpaceX — Musk is nothing if not ambitious — and the company's next goal is to tackle manned space flight.
Last night at its Hawthorne, California headquarters, SpaceX unveiled its newest capsule, the Dragon V2. Designed as a reusable craft for up to seven astronauts, the V2 differs from its predecessor not just in terms of what it carries but how it gets back home; according to Musk, the new craft disposes with the concept of ocean splashdowns altogether, and "can land anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter." With a touchscreen control system, 3D printed engines, and a slick, minimalist interior, the V2 feels so close to science fiction it's hard to believe it exists — but we were there last night and took a step inside.
- The SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. While the company limits photography inside the facility due to its government work, walking inside is like stepping into a mash-up of 2001 and Iron Man. Mirrored windows and doors cut off all view of the outside world, while glass conference rooms are named after space visionaries like Wernher von Braun, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and Sir Isaac Newton.
- The building itself is a huge industrial facility, but the attention was on the shape hiding behind the curtain.
- SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk took the stage to tout the accomplishments of the Dragon capsule, but he was clearly more excited to show the world what he termed a true "21st century spacecraft."
- With a theatrical flourish and plenty of smoke, the Dragon V2 made its first appearance.
- A close-up of the capsule's exotic logo.
- According to SpaceX, the Dragon V2 can land basically anywhere in the world with incredible precision.
- Designed — and built — in California.
- A demo video showed off an impressive landing sequence, with the Dragon V2 entering Earth's atmosphere, using its thrusters to control the speed of descent, and then briefly hovering over the ground before setting down on its four legs.
- After a rolling staircase was brought on stage, Musk opened the door of the V2 and stepped inside.
- There are a total of seven seats inside the craft: a top row of four, with three additional seats set right below.
- The bottom row looked rather cramped, though it likely wouldn't be as problematic in a zero-G environment. Large windows adorn either side, but otherwise the interior was sparse and futuristic. It wasn't clear if the blue and purple lighting will be used in actual space flight, but it made for a beautiful demo.
- The interface comes courtesy of four large touchscreens, which Musk says are similar to those found in Tesla cars. The screens are set on a hinge, so once the astronauts crawl up into their chairs they can swing the bank of displays around to face them.
- Should the screens fail for any reason, there are hardware controls for all the essential functions as fallback. Which is probably a good idea; we've seen Gravity.