A Look Inside the CST-100

Interior view of Boeing’s CST-100 crew capsule. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz

NASA and Boeing engineers have just started going through the painstaking and meticulous process of evaluating and tweaking the interior of the CST-100 to make sure the ergonomics and design will suit the real-world needs of the astronauts inside. The main purpose of the 10-ton, 5-meter-long CST-100 (Crew Space Transportation) will be to carry crew to and from the International Space Station and, in time, private space stations, such as that proposed by Bigelow Aerospace.

During two, four-hour sessions, NASA astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik recently conducted tests at Kennedy Space Center in a fully kitted-out test version of the CST-100 crew module. The astronauts wore their standard bright-orange launch-and-entry suits to better simulate the environment and their maneuverability inside the capsule.

“The astronauts always enjoy getting out and looking at the vehicles and sharing their experiences with these commercial providers,” said Kathy Lueders, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

CST-100 exterior. Image Credit: Boeing

The CST-100 is designed to take five astronauts comfortably—seven if needed—or a combination of crew and cargo to the ISS and back when it enters service, sometime in the middle of this decade. Unlike previous capsules, the CST-100 is designed to be reusable, for up to 10 missions. Although its overall shape resembles the design of the Apollo Command and Service Modules, the new spacecraft has considerably more room inside for the crew, as the manned section is larger, while at the same time the service module is smaller because of the shorter distances it will be traveling.

The interior of the CST-100 is far more spacious and comfortable than any previous capsule. From the additional room to the ambient blue LED lighting and simplified controls, everything has been designed with the convenience of the astronauts in mind. Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations and a former NASA astronaut, explained that the CST-100 was set up to be simple to operate.

“What you’re not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches. 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,” Ferguson said.

The pilot of the CST-100 sits in the farthest left position on the upper row of seating. Directly in front of the pilot’s seat is a forward-facing window to aid with visibility when docking. The pilot’s control panels are angled and positioned so as to provide easy access. Full-color digital displays are used in conjunction with analog switch gear and tablet computer technology.

When the CST-100 does start making its regular trips to the ISS, it will do so atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The spacecraft will act as both taxi and lifeboat for the ISS. The return to Earth for the CST-100 is similar to previous capsules, with the capsule relying on three main parachutes to slow its decent. As the CST-100 gets closer to the ground, six airbags will inflate underneath the capsule to cushion the impact. For added flexibility the CST-100 can also land on water.

AmericaSpace image of Atlas V rocket fairing with the GPS IIF4 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Photo Credit Alan Walters
The CST-100 will use a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to send it to orbit. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace


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  1. David, thanks for showing us all the inside of the spacecraft. This is a birds-eye view that many may never see unless they are subscribed to your website. I am someone who is fascinated with spaceflight technology and how far it has come. As you say, this is considerably different from the CSM from before. Pretty impressive.

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