NASA astronauts go back to the future with capsule launch

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This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company's Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA's Commercial Crew Program. (SpaceX via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – It’s back to the future as NASA astronauts launch again from the U.S. — aboard a retro-style “Right Stuff” capsule.

Make no mistake: This is not your father’s — or grandfather’s — capsule.

SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule outshines NASA’s old Apollo spacecraft in virtually every way. The Dragon’s clean lines and minimalist interior, with touchscreens instead of a mess of switches and knobs, make even the space shuttles seem yesteryear.

This fresh take on a vintage look will be on full display Wednesday when SpaceX plans to launch NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station — a first for a private company.

It will be the first astronaut launch from Florida since Atlantis closed out the space shuttle program in 2011, and the first American-made capsule to carry people into orbit since the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket — with the crew capsule atop — will soar from the same pad used for both of those earlier missions.

Russia’s workhorse Soyuz capsules, still in use after a half-century plus, have kept NASA astronauts flying to the space station. While reliable, the Soyuz looks dated compared with the snappy Dragon.

“We want it to not only be as safe and reliable as you’d expect from the most advanced spacecraft in the world ... we also want it to look amazing and look beautiful,” said Benji Reed, a SpaceX mission director.