SpaceX has shown off a key feature of a modified Crew Dragon spacecraft that will soon launch its first all-civilian crew to orbit.
The new design includes a glass dome that will offer the four-person crew panoramic views of Earth and beyond.
The first pictures (below) of the Cupola appeared in a tweet on Wednesday, September 1. The photos show each of the crew members peering out from the dome ahead of its integration with the spacecraft.
A look at Dragon’s Cupola, which will provide our Inspiration4 astronauts with incredible views of Earth from orbit!
The crew visited the flight-hardware Cupola in California before it was shipped to Florida for integration with Dragon Resilience. pic.twitter.com/9ivMZrS1ip
— Inspiration4 (@inspiration4x) September 1, 2021
The Inspiration4 mission is expected to take place this month, though a specific date is yet to be announced.
The three-day space voyage was the idea of Shift4 Payments boss Jared Isaacman, who secured the mission in a private deal with SpaceX.
Isaacman is using the mission to help publicize the work of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He’s also been encouraging people to donate to the organization as it seeks to reach its funding target of $200 million.
The Inspiration4 mission will include three other crew members. Physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux will become the first bone cancer survivor to travel to space, and also the first person to head to orbit with a prosthetic body part (in Arceneaux’s case, prosthetic leg bones). And that’s not all. At 29, she’ll also become the youngest American to orbit Earth.
Trained pilot Dr. Sian Proctor is also part of the mission, as is Christopher Sembroski, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and current Lockheed Martin employee.
On other Dragon capsules, a docking mechanism is required at the top so they can link up with the International Space Station. But as the Inspiration4 mission is an orbit-only adventure, SpaceX engineers saw an opportunity to include the Cupola.
Shortly after SpaceX announced the new design in March, it was revealed the spacecraft’s bathroom would be located in the same place. Isaacman responded at the time: “When people do inevitably have to use the bathroom, they’re going to have one hell of a view.”
He added that the capsule is pretty small and therefore lacks privacy, though fortunately the bathroom does include a curtain so you can avoid doing your business in the full gaze of others.
And just in case anyone spends longer in the bathroom than is reasonably necessary (though with those views it will be kind of understandable), then the crew members can still enjoy the amazing scenery through the spacecraft’s four smaller windows.