A decade ago, NASA challenged private vendors to develop concepts for spacecraft that could carry US and international astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In 2014, it awarded those contracts to Space and Boeing.
Ten years later, SpaceX already has a successful launch under its belt thanks to its futuristic Crew Dragon vehicle and Falcon 9 rocket.
But Boeing has been struggling with getting its spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, off the ground. The two corporations have been working in parallel, yet their approaches — and designs — are strikingly different.
With that news, we also got a first-person glimpse at the inside of the Starliner’s cockpit — and the interface couldn’t look more different when compared to the sleek touchscreens used to operate SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
Panels of gauges, switches, monitors, and number pads take up most of the astronaut’s view. A joystick allows for more precise inputs. It’s a design far more reminiscent of NASA’s Space Shuttle’s cockpit — more commercial airliner than Tesla.
During SpaceX’s historic May 30 launch, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley appeared to interact with the array of three side-by-side touchscreens only minimally. In fact, Crew Dragon takes care of most of the flying. The two pilots only briefly took over manual control twice during the test launch.
“It’s probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand-new spaceship, and I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend here,” said Behnken in a NASA broadcast several weeks preceding the launch.
“Of course, you know, growing up as a pilot my whole career, having a certain way to control the vehicle, this is certainly different,” Hurley added.
The sleek black and white SpaceX space suits also got a “five star rating” by Behnken and Hurley. “I bet you we’ve donned and offed those suits a couple hundred times,” Hurley said during an interview from on board the space station on June 1. “They were actually much easier to get in and out of in zero G.”
Just like its cockpit, Starliner’s blue space suit also looks strikingly different. The suits are covered in Boeing’s trademark blue. The overall look however is arguably a far cry from SpaceX’s divisive “tuxedo-like” take, with a far less flattering shape and boots, courtesy of sports outfitter Reebok, that already look a little dated.
NASA has already announced the three American astronauts who will be on board the first planned crewed test flight on board Boeing’s Starliner, slated for April 2021.
But that date may be subject to change. Thanks to a test flight that almost ended in a “catastrophic failure,” Boeing decided to redo its unsuccessful uncrewed test flight in April. A date for that second uncrewed launch has yet to be announced.
READ MORE: Virtual reality will be a big part of Boeing’s Starliner astronaut training [Space.com]
More on Starliner: NASA: Boeing Skipped Crucial Software Test of Starliner Spacecraft