Rebirth of the American Space Capsule

SpaceX's Dragon Spacecraft that launched into orbit this past December was among several capsules that were on display in and around Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. — Recent visitors to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center press site and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space and Missile History Center could tell that there is a definite shape to the future – and it’s capsular. Not one, but three different capsule-based spacecraft were on display in and around Florida’s Space Coast during the launch of Atlantis on July 8.

Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) Dragon Spacecraft, the one that thundered to orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket this past December was on display at the Space and Missile History Center. Meanwhile over at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site both the Orion Multi-Person Crew Vehicle and Boeing’s CST-100 were on display.

Right next door to SpaceX’s Launch Control Center (LCC) the Dragon Spacecraft attracted large crowds. The Dragon was on display through July 10, the spacecraft’s scorch marks helped to assure the region that human space flight efforts are ongoing.

“A lot of people are sad that the shuttle program is ending, it has been such an integral part of the area for three decades that they have a right to feel this way,” said SpaceX’s Vice President of Communications, Bobby Block. “Just because the shuttles are retiring however, does not mean that the entire space program is ending – it’s not over – it is the ending of one program, but it also is the start of another.”

Lockheed Martin's Orion Spacecraft made a cross-country journey to be at the final launch of the shuttle program. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Back over at Kennedy Space Center, the Orion MPCV was on display down by the iconic Countdown Clock. The Orion, still mounted to the back of a trailer was carried across the nation in an effort to introduce the craft to the American public.

“We were taking the Orion to Kennedy Space Center so we took the opportunity to stop along the way,” said Lockheed Martin’s Communications Manager for the Orion Project Linda Singleton. “This way we could tell the public about the Orion Program, let them see the spacecraft first hand. We stopped at Tucson, Austin and Tallahassee and met with 20,000 people in person across the country and talked to them about Orion.”

A test article of the Orion MPCV was on display at Kennedy Space Center during the launch of shuttle Atlantis last week. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Meanwhile Boeing had a split mock up of their proposed space taxi, the CST-100 along with a structural test article of the vehicle on display. Boeing’s offering allowed guests to have both a general idea of what the vehicle would look like as well as see some of the hardware that is currently being used to test out the company’s designs.

Boeing displayed a mock-up of its CST-100 'Space-Taxi' at NASA's Kennedy Space Center press site. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

“The reason we selected a capsule is that it is a simple system, we’ve been flown since John Glenn did his first flight on Mercury,” said John Elbon from Boeing. “The purpose of this transportation system is just to take passengers to the space station, so our design is focused on that mission.”

What the inside of the CST-100 would look like can be seen in this image. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

There has been a high level of concern raised that with the retirement of the space shuttle the U.S. will lose its dominance in space exploration and scientific efforts. By having these various capsules on display, the companies that build the hardware appear to be working to allay these fears. Atlantis is currently scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) on July 21.

Of the three spacecraft that were displayed last week - only SpaceX's Dragon has been flown in space. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian
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