On Thursday night, SpaceX pulled the wraps off its brand-spankin'-new Dragon V2 spacecraft at its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters. During a live webcast, founder Elon Musk said, "It's all around I think a big leap forward in technology," adding that the seven-passenger, reusable spacecraft "really takes things to the next level."
Unlike its unmanned predecessor, the original Dragon CRS, the new space taxi will shuttle cargo and astronauts back and forth between Earth and the International Space Station--potentially allowing the U.S. to reduce its dependence on Russian Soyuz capsules for transport. Here a video of how it works, complete with--apropos to a Tony Stark-like billionaire like Musk--a moody dubstep soundtrack:
You'll notice that Dragon V2 hovers back to Earth vertically, negating the need for a long stretch of runway on which to land. NASA--which shut down its own shuttle program in 2011 to rely on third-party contracts--signed SpaceX in 2012 to a $1.6 billion deal for 12 scheduled missions to the ISS. So far, three trips have been completed.
Similarly to Tesla--which Musk expects to change the way we think about electric cars--reusable taxis and rockets like the Falcon 9 set a new standard for sustainable space travel. "As long as we continue to throw away rockets and spacecraft, we will never have true access to space," added Musk. "It will always be incredibly expensive."