Imagine you had to arrange a conference call, but instead of using a smartphone app like FaceTime or WhatsApp, you have 600 rotary telephones in front of you. Phones are ringing, you’re dialing out, and you need to make sure everyone can hear each other. That’s what flying the Space Shuttle in 2011–the year it retired–must have felt like. 

The Shuttle design was over 50 years old yet we were still using it for the most incredible of human undertakings. Astronauts would place their smart phones into a desk drawer, pack their iPads-full of movies, books, and star gazing apps, and then climb into a cockpit built in the 1960s. 

There, they would have to operate hundreds of buttons and switches and monitor all the gauges and warning lights to control one of the most complicated and important machines in all of human history. Space flight is no less daunting or special than it was when the shuttle took its first flight, but the technology used for it needed an update.

Enter the SpaceX Crew Dragon. 

In 2020, SpaceX will launch its first manned space craft and send it to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has done 20 supply runs to the ISS, and even sent a Crew Dragon carrying nothing but a test dummy, but this will be the first time a private company has sent astronauts to space. 

It’s also a special moment for the United States. For the past nine years, the only way an American astronaut could get to space was to buy a seat on a Russian Soyuz rocker. Cost: $90,000,000. SpaceX is bringing that job back to America. And not only is the spacecraft built in the U.S., and launching from the U.S., it’s cheaper than the Soyuz ride. 

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Watch the video to learn more about what makes the Crew Dragon so advanced.

Click here to watch the another episode of APEX:60 about the incredible SR-71 "Blackbird". 

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Footage: NASA