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This might be the wildest thing SpaceX has ever done

Published Mar 31st, 2021 4:24PM EDT
crew dragon window
Image: NASA

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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has already proven itself as a safe and capable spacecraft when it lived up to NASA’s standards and ferried crewed missions from Earth to the International Space Station. The spacecraft was developed with the help of NASA as part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program which sought to produce not one but two efficient forms of transportation for astronauts — the other being Boeing’s oft-delayed Starliner which has yet to actually complete a full test flight to the ISS.

In any case, Crew Dragon exists and by all accounts, it’s exactly what NASA was hoping for, but that doesn’t prevent SpaceX from using it for other purposes as well. That includes commercial flights, and along with the announcement of the crew of a space tourism flight scheduled for later this year, SpaceX revealed that it’s making some changes to Crew Dragon that will ensure the wealthy passengers get what they paid for.

In a tweet, SpaceX shows off the most stunning change. It’s a large domed window that is built into the area of the Crew Dragon that was previously used for docking to the International Space Station. The commercial tourism flight, Inspiration4, won’t be heading to the ISS or docking anywhere, so SpaceX decided to give the spacecraft a design makeover that makes it more well-suited to entertaining travelers as they experience the wonders of space.

The domed window appears large enough for one or maybe two people to enjoy at the same time if they were seated back-to-back. It looks like the handful of space travelers with a ticket punched for 2021 will need to take turns enjoying the wonders of a 360-degree panoramic view of Earth from high above.

SpaceX isn’t building an all-new spacecraft for the mission but will instead reuse the Crew Dragon that is still docked to the International Space Station. Once that ship returns, SpaceX will spruce it up a bit and retrofit the new window dome to the vehicle as it goes through its process of refurbishing it for future use.

The mission is currently scheduled for a launch in mid-September, but as we’ve seen with other launches, the window is subject to delays and setbacks. A total of four tourists will be aboard the flight, and the mission will be used as a fundraiser of sorts that will benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to the tune of $200 million.

As the first-ever all-civilian mission to space, it will be a huge milestone for crewed spaceflight, and based on the images of the fancy viewing window, the passengers will be in for a very special experience. Four people get to go to space, St. Jude gets money to save kids, and Elon Musk gets to brag about a piece of glass. Sounds like a win/win/win to me.