Nearly two hours after NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurkey became the first to pilot a spaceship using only touchscreen controls.
Space X’s crew Dragon eschews the famous maze of manual controls and switches found on retired spacecraft like the Space Shuttle or the Apollo command modules. Instead of that, Crew Dragon pilots have just three large touchscreen panels in front of them and a few spare buttons below. So during the few times that they have to manually control the spacecraft, they do so using a video game-style interface on those screens.
Behnken and Hurley got to take that interface for a brief test ride Saturday afternoon when Space X had them manually operate the Crew Dragon to make sure everything was working.
The company broadcast footage of the test during its live stream and though it consisted of just a few taps, it was a stunning thing to see astronauts nudge their spacecraft around using the sane display technology we use to tweet, check instagram, scroll through email or swipe for TikTok videos. It is also remarkable that the user interface is so similar to the online flight simulator that Space X released just a few weeks ago. To be honest, the simulator does say it features the controls of the actual interface used by NASA Astronauts to manually pilot the Space X Dragon 2 vehicle.
Most of the Crew Dragon’s maneuvers are supposed to happen autonomously, so if all goes well during Behnken and Hurley’s mission, they will not need to play around with these controls again. And while it may not be as outrageous as the spaceship controls we often see in sci-fi movies, watching them use the touchscreen interface to control Space X’s Crew Dragon certainly felt like a big step to Space Exploration. It seems Elon Musk’s Space X could be the next big thing.