May 24, 2020
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The first astronauts launched by SpaceX are breaking new ground for style with hip spacesuits, gull-wing Teslas and a sleek rocketship — all of it white with black trim. The color coordinating is thanks to Elon Musk, the driving force behind both SpaceX and Tesla, and a big fan of flash and science fiction.
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken like the fresh new look. They’ll catch a ride to the launch pad in a Tesla Model X electric car. “It is really neat, and I think the biggest testament to that is my 10-year-old son telling me how cool I am now,” Hurley told The Associated Press.
“SpaceX has gone all out” on the capsule’s appearance, he said. “And they’ve worked equally as hard to make the innards and the displays and everything else in the vehicle work to perfection.” The true test comes Wednesday when Hurley and Behnken climb aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and, equipment and weather permitting, shoot into space. It will be the first astronaut launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center since the last shuttle flight in 2011.
It will also mark the first attempt by a private company to send astronauts into orbit. Only governments — Russia, the U.S., and China — have done that. The historic send-off deserves to look good, according to SpaceX. It already has a nice ring. Musk named his rocket after the “Star Wars” Millennium Falcon. The capsule name stems from “Puff the Magic Dragon,” Musk’s jab at all the doubters when he started SpaceX in 2002.
SpaceX designed and built its own suits, which are custom-fit. Safety came first. The cool — or wow — factor was a close second. “It’s important that the suits are comfortable and also are inspiring,” explained SpaceX’s Benji Reed. a mission director. “But above all, it’s designed to keep the crew safe.”
The bulky, orange ascent and entry suits worn by shuttle astronauts had their own attraction, according to Behnken, who like Hurley wore them for his two previous missions. Movies like “Armageddon” and “Space Cowboys” stole the orange look whenever actors were “trying to pretend to be astronauts.”
On launch day, Hurley and Behnken will get ready inside Kennedy’s remodeled crew quarters, which dates back to the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s. SpaceX techs will help the astronauts into their one-piece, two-layer pressure suits.
Hurley and Behnken will emerge through the same double doors used on July 16, 1969, by Apollo 11′s Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins — the Operations and Checkout Building now bears Armstrong’s name.
But instead of the traditional Astrovan, the two will climb into the back seat of a Tesla Model X for the nine-mile ride to Launch Complex 39A, the same pad used by the moonmen and most shuttle crews. It’s while they board the Tesla that they’ll see their wives and young sons for the last time before flight.
Making a comeback after three decades is NASA’s worm logo — wavy, futuristic-looking red letters spelling NASA, the “A” resembling rocket nose cones. The worm adorns the Astro-Tesla, Falcon and even the astronauts’ suits, along with NASA’s original blue meatball-shaped logo.
The white-suited Hurley and Behnken will transfer from the white Tesla to the white Dragon atop the equally white Falcon 9. “It’s going to be quite a show,” Reed promised.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.