Have what it takes to fly Crew Dragon? A few pointers to master SpaceX’s docking simulator

SpaceX to launch NASA astronauts for first time on May 27

SpaceX released the docking simulator used by NASA astronauts to train for space station docking. (Image: SpaceX) (WKMG 2020)

Ahead of the historic launch with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley SpaceX released an online simulator to show what it’s like to dock the Crew Dragon spacecraft at the International Space Station.

According to NASA, the docking simulator has been used by Behnken and Hurley as they trained to launch on Crew Dragon from Kennedy Space Center on May 27. The historic launch will mark the first human spaceflight from Florida’s Coast since 2011.

If all goes well the spacecraft will dock at the International Space Station, where the astronauts will spend an undetermined amount of time before returning home.

Crew Dragon’s controls system includes touch screens and manual control options. While the spacecraft will autonomously dock and undock with the space station, the astronauts have the ability to take manual control of Crew Dragon if necessary. That’s where the simulator comes in.

[MORE SPACE COVERAGE: Meet the astronauts who will make history in first human spaceflight from US since 2011]

Before anyone takes a spin behind the control there are some spaceflight navigational terms to know: Pitch, roll, yaw. These are on the right controls.

Those control the axis of the spacecraft, to maintain its center of gravity, and properly orient it to dock with the ISS. The yaw axis refers to the perpendicular axis, or side-to-side, the pitch refers to the up or down of the spacecraft nose.

Next, on the left there are position controls. These allow you to move the spacecraft forward, backward or side-to-side.

The second thing that will help is patience. Don’t hit the pitch button a million times or you’ll soon be drifting off into space. Take your time. The docking process is slow. According to SpaceX, below -0.2 m/s is a healthy speed when you are 5 meters away from the space station.

For more information on how to drive in space click the question mark icon in the simulator and follow the prompts. It explains the controls and what a successful docking should look like.

Hopefully, your spacecraft commanding skills are better than mine. Click here to try your skills.

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