“Alien” fans, Ripley rides again.
That’s the name of the space-suited dummy aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon that launched Saturday, a hat tip to Ellen Ripley, the heroine of the sci-fi movie series.
Crew Dragon is the first commercially operated spacecraft designed to carry astronauts, and the uncrewed demonstration mission to the International Space Station is a test to make sure everything works before humans are rocketed into space in the capsule. It’s expected to dock Sunday at the space station.
Ripley’s not just along for the ride: The anthropomorphic test device, as NASA calls it, is there to make sure the Crew Dragon is safe and comfortable for humans. The robot is “fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission,” Anna Heiney wrote in a NASA blog.
“From liftoff to splashdown, essentially she’s going to tell us how she feels during the whole mission,” a SpaceX senior dynamics engineer says in an informational video.
If all goes well, SpaceX’s first crewed mission, which will fly NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, could happen by July, according to NASA’s most recent schedule.
Such a mission would end the decadelong US reliance on Russia for human spaceflight. The US space shuttle program ended in 2011, and NASA has paid Russia about $80 million per seat to send American astronauts to space aboard Soyuz rockets. Those contracts are set to run out this year.
“Looking forward to meeting her in person in a couple days,” Anne McClain, an astronaut on the International Space Station, tweeted in response to SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s tweet of Ripley.