SpaceX's famous "Starman" dummy onboard the inaugural Falcon Heavy launch in 2018 is about to have some competition — from a new dummy, named Ripley, who will fly on the first test mission of the company's Crew Dragon capsule.
Ripley is not onboard to be dead weight: It is packed with a range of sensors that SpaceX engineers will use to monitor the journey to and from the International Space Station.
"We call it a smartie, and her [sic] name is Ripley," SpaceX vice president of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said of the dummy during a news conference Thursday (Feb. 28) previewing the mission's launch, which is scheduled for early in the morning of March 2. Liftoff is set for 2:49 a.m. EST (0749 GMT).
The name is a nod to Ellen Ripley, the main character of the 1979 movie "Alien" and some of its sequels. The name follows a SpaceX trend of naming things after science fiction icons. It's first spacesuit-clad figure (launched in a Tesla Roadster by a Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018) was called "Starman" in honor of David Bowie's sci-fi themed music. The Falcon rockets themselves are named after the Millennium Falcon from "Star Wars."
SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk unveiled the first glimpse of the Ripley dummy on Friday (March 1) via Twitter.
"Ripley," Musk wrote in a simple note.
The dummy is part of a full suite of sensors aboard the uncrewed mission, which will produce data that SpaceX and NASA will rely on for future, crewed missions. "We instrumented the crap out of this vehicle; it's got data, sensors everywhere," Kathy Lueders, manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said during the news conference. "Actually having a re-entry, with Ripley in the seat, in the position, is critical."
The sensors inside the Ripley dummy will measure forces and acceleration experienced by a future human passenger, as well as the environment around them.
"The goal is to get an idea of how humans would feel in her [sic] place, basically," Koenigsmann said. "I don't expect, actually, a lot of surprises there, but it's better to verify, make sure that it's safe and everything's comfortable for our astronauts going on the next flight of the capsule."
Fortunately, Ripley the dummy's odds of encountering any chestbursters on the flight are pretty slim.
Editor's note: This story was updated March 1 with the first photo of SpaceX's Ripley test dummy on Crew Dragon. You can watch the Crew Dragon Demo-1 test launch live on Space.com here Saturday, March 2, beginning at 2 a.m. EST.