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Science Imitates Science Fiction in SpaceX’s Futuristic Dragon Capsule

SpaceX's Dragon capsule has proven itself over and over during cargo deliveries to the International Space Station, but the version of the craft made to carry humans has yet to do so — although if it works anywhere as well as it looks in these newly published photos, it should be fine.

A prototype was shown off last year, but this updated version reflects the next iteration of its design. The capsule is one of two being developed under NASA contracts; Boeing is hard at work on the other, which was just last week officially renamed the Starliner.

The Crew Dragon, as it's called, is very unlike the manned capsules of the past, which were reliable but far from comfortable, and certainly not spacious. There's room for four passengers in this one on G-force-reducing crash couches that look like something out of a science fiction movie. Big windows (for a spacecraft at least) allow nice views, and of course there's the hopefully unneeded, but recently tested, escape mechanism.

Gone are the huge banks of switches and buttons: Crew Dragon will be mostly autonomously controlled, and the few readouts and settings passengers will need are on three large screens directly in front of the couches. It looks more like the dashboard of a luxury car than a spacecraft. The interface could probably use a little work, though, as Jason Davis of The Planetary Society points out:

Any manned launches in the capsule won't be for a while to come, and at NASA's discretion; a launch failure in June means there's lots of work to do before anything but food and gear goes into the belly of the Dragon.