Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe space capsule is the first and most reliable design for space craft used in manned missions. The design has proved so reliable that it is now being used in the latest designs for space craft. To understand more about space capsules and how they work, we need to know about their origin. We can also look at the way they are now being used for new space craft in low orbit missions or beyond.
The beginning of space capsules is really the beginning of manned space flight. The story really starts with the end of War II and the onset of the Cold War standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States. The political and technological rivalry between the two nations set off a burst of innovation in aeronautics that became known as the Space Race. The space capsule became the first major innovation for manned space flight.
The biggest challenge for manned space flight was designing a craft that would essentially keep human beings alive in space. It would have to resist temperature extremes, maintain a pressurized atmosphere, and shield its passengers against radiation from space. On top of these daunting challenges the craft had to safely take its human passenger safely into orbit and beyond and return them safely. The space capsule was the design that eventually won out being used in Vostok 1 and the Mercury project.
The best part about the capsule design was its versatility. It could be used for low orbit missions or be part of a payload for missions to the moon. This adaptability is what makes the capsule a strong design for current space craft. With the space shuttle program ending this year NASA is looking to this design to replace the space shuttle in the form the Space X Dragon capsule a privately built and design craft contracted by NASA there are also larger plans further down the road to use the design for deep space manned mission such as returning to the Moon or going to Mars.
If you’d like more info on the space capsule, check out NASA’s page about the Constellation Program’s Orion crew vehicle, and here’s a link to an article about the Dragon space capsule from Space.com.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Space Capsules. Listen here, Episode 124: Space Capsules, Part 1: Vostok, Mercury and Gemini.