Image: BoeingThe future of spaceflight is streamlined, cheap flights with no need for bells and whistles--like say, airlocks. MSNBC analyst James Oberg has a great piece on how private space corporations are aiming for inexpensive vehicles that get astronauts from point a to point b without having to spend a lot of time in orbit or performing other tasks. Since the main mission would be immediately dock with a space station or ship already in orbit, NASA and other agencies are looking at vehicles akin to the Soyuz class capsules or something similar to the Gemini/Mercury programs that the US sent up in the 60s. Oberg puts up a few design suggestions of his own:
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- Electrical power? Batteries are fine — recharge when you reach the station, or if you can’t, land immediately. No solar panels, no fuel cells, nothing complex or exotic.
- Navigation? Big radar dishes, even complex transponders, are unnecessary, with differential GPS navigation now the baseline for most flying all over the planet.
- Spacewalking? No need, so no airlock, either. At most, the crew would wear in-cabin pressure suits such as those used on Soyuz missions.
- Passenger accommodations? Room for each passenger in a foldaway seat, and space to turn around if desired would be more than adequate for the short flight. No exercise equipment would be needed. No DVD library.
- Hygiene? A maximum of 24 hours of independent flight suggests a minimum toilet (or just Apollo-era plastic bags with sticky openings). Or low-residue pre-launch diets, and diapers.
- Passenger comforts? None. Forget hot food and a complex galley. Box lunches will do. Forget even windows, except for the pilot’s view forward at docking. There need only be minimal carry-on luggage — a take-aboard allowance that would make today’s commercial airlines seem generous.
- Bulky docking hardware? These mechanically robust components are often a significant fraction of a spaceship’s weight, but the space station can also now grapple a nearby vehicle and emplace it gently on the desired berthing interface.
Boeing has it's own design for future capsules (as pictured above)