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Boeing shows off its rather cool CST-100 space capsule for taking people to low earth orbit

CST-100 capsuleBoeing has just revealed a full-scale model of the 15ft diameter spacecraft it intends to carry up to seven astronauts to and from the International Space Station. It has a very sleek interior. I’ve seen Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules, and in all of them the seats are jammed between switches, junction boxes, instruments and controls. This one looks more like an aircraft cabin, and maybe a business class one at that. Soft, blue-tinted indirect LED lighting gives it a clean, spacious look. There are bench seats as well as control chairs, and touch-screens as well as more conventional switches. There’s cargo space at the back.

Although the CST-100 is designed for a reasonably soft landing on dry land, the capsule has to be capable of a water splashdown if necessary. It has airbags to keep it afloat in this eventuality, and these were tested last week and passed as capable of sustaining evacuation at sea.

It grows more exciting each year as the three competing concepts all make progress. In addition to Boeing’s CST-100 capsule there is the manned version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, and the Dream Chaser lifting body vehicle from Sierra Nevada. There is a strong possibility that all three of them will undertake manned missions in the run-up to the choice between them.

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