SpaceX is launching a mannequin dressed in space suit in the first crew dragon


Starman is about to get some company off the ground.

When SpaceX launches its First Dragon Crew Cap on an unmanned test mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday (March 2), the vehicle will be carrying a kind of passenger: a humanoid mannequin wearing the company's elegant black and white space suit.

This suit also graces the inert body of Starman, the Red Tesla Roadster's dummy driver SpaceX launched into orbit around the sun last year at Inaugural flight of the company's Falcon Heavy rocket.

Related: SpaceX Dragon Crew Demo-1 Flight: What to Expect

"There's a – can I say dummy?" Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of SpaceX Flight Reliability and Construction, told reporters on Friday (Feb. 22). "Is that the right word?"

In fact, the technical term is a bit more sophisticated than that.

"ATD," Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Groups Program, told Koenigsmann during the press conference, apparently referring to anthropomorphic test dummy. "We'd rather not call them mannequins."

"There's a puppet? Manikin? ATD – whatever it is – in there," Koenigsmann replied. "And we will measure the responses in the human body, obviously, and measure the environment. We want to make sure everything is perfect for, you know, the safety of astronauts."

Thus, the ATD with sensor will be a bit more technological than Starman, who did not have to measure loads or tensions during his epic takeoff.

And we're going to have to call it "the ATD" – until SpaceX's metals tell us otherwise.

"In fact, I forgot to ask the name," Koenigsmann said. "I know he or she has a name."

(Here's hoping the name is as cool as Starman or Skywalker on mannequin, the nickname that Blue Origin gave its manikin loaded with instruments for suborbital test flights.)

Dragon Crew is based heavily on the Dragon's robotic capsule that has been refueling up to the ISS to NASA since 2012. But the crew variant has seven seats, a life support system, an emergency escape system, touch screens, windows and other important equipment related to passengers.

There are other important differences as well. For example, the robotic dragon has traditional implantable solar arrays and is attacked by ISS 'massive robotic arm. But the Crew Dragon's solar panels are embedded in its trunk and the capsule will dock directly into the lab in orbit.

The next unmanned flight, called Demo-1, will put Crew Dragon and its many systems in their rhythms during a six-day mission. If all goes according to plan, the Dragon Crew will leave the ISS on March 8 and perform a parachute dive in the Atlantic Ocean.

The same capsule will also perform a "high altitude abortion test" in the coming months, proving the emergency escape system. The Demo-2, during which a Crew Dragon will take two NASA astronauts to the ISS, is due to take off in July. Operational and contracted flights to the space agency will begin after that.

SpaceX is not the only company to have a NASA commercial crew contract. Boeing is developing its own astronaut taxi, called CST-100 Starliner. Starliner is scheduled to make its first crewless demonstration flight to ISS, not before April.

Tariq Malik, the managing editor of, contributed to this story. Mike Wall's book on the search for alien life "Out there"(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Karl Tate) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.


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