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SpaceX Prepares Dragon Spacecraft for Human Flight

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SpaceX is preparing a spacecraft to accommodate seven astronauts on its first flight. With the goal of sending a manned Dragon spacecraft first to the International Space Station, the company's built a prototype of the capsule, including seven comfy seats for those lucky voyageurs.

SpaceX, a company run by PayPal cofounder and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, hopes to soon pick up where NASA's 30-year shuttle program left off last July. With a little help from NASA, the company's designing the spacecraft's seating, lighting, storage spaces and environmental controls for the comfort and safety of its crew.

As you can see in the gallery below, this is not a tiny tin can where astronauts are crammed in like sardines - the company says Dragon's big enough for seven adults that are up to 6'5″ tall and weigh 250 pounds. There's enough room in the capsule for three others to stand and help the astronauts get comfortable in preparation for their mission.

Brags SpaceX on its website, "In fact, Dragon has so much interior volume, that we could place an entire three-person Russian Soyuz capsule descent module inside Dragon's pressure vessel."

How long will it be until this relatively large spacecraft - atop its mighty Falcon 9 booster rocket - makes it to the International Space Station? The company's not ready for human spaceflight just yet - the first step is to send an unmanned cargo version of the Dragon spacecraft filled with supplies to the International Space Station, a mission that was originally scheduled for February 7 of this year.

The company announced Friday it is aiming for a April 30 launch with plans for docking with the space station on May 3, according Aero News. Although this upcoming mission will test maneuverability and docking, a first for a privately developed spacecraft. SpaceX has contracted two cargo missions for this year, the first of which is tentatively scheduled for July. In all, SpaceX has 16 flights on its manifest through 2015.

So far, SpaceX has successfully flown the Falcon 9 rocket with the SpaceX Dragon capsule on top, in a mission on December 8, 2010. The spacecraft orbited the earth at an altitude of around 190 miles for three hours, and the company was able to test its maneuverability before it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. Earlier this month, the Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon booster passed a crucial test, a dress rehearsal for its unmanned first voyage to the International Space Station.

Do you think private space exploration will be as successful as NASA's exploits?

Take a look at this gallery of the interior of the Dragon spacecraft and some of its other attributes:

Dragon Prototype

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According to SpaceX, "SpaceX and NASA conducted a day-long review of the Dragon crew vehicle layout using the Dragon engineering model equipped with seats and representations of crew systems." Photo: SpaceX

Click here to view this gallery.

More About: elon musk, International Space Station, NASA, space, SpaceX

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