The world got some bad news the other day – and for once, it had nothing to do with the coronavirus. 

We’re talking, of course, about the aborted SpaceX launch, which had to be rescheduled for this weekend due to poor weather. Apart from being a milestone in the company’s own history, yesterday’s no-go launch would have been the first time a private company was responsible for sending astronauts to space, as well as the first manned space mission from American soil since 2011. 

The Dragon capsule’s design is vastly different from that of the Soyuz, the vehicle that all astronauts have used to reach the International Space Station since NASA retired its Space Shuttle. Most notably, the panels crammed full of buttons and dials have been replaced by three touchscreens, with a few of the most important controls located underneath for use should the touchscreens fail. 

Now, you might ask, how on earth can astronauts wearing bulky space suits possibly navigate a touchscreen? I mean, my iPhone has enough trouble recognizing my fingerprint even when I’m not wearing gloves – and anybody who’s bought a pair of “touchscreen-compatible” gloves knows that it takes about a million taps to achieve anything close to what you want. According to astronaut Doug Hurley, one of the two piloting the Dragon capsule on the upcoming launch, the astronauts “worked with [SpaceX] to define the way you interface with it – the way your touches actually registered on the display, in order to be able to fly it cleanly and not make mistakes touching it, not potentially putting in a wrong input.” I interpret this to mean that the astronauts spent a lot of time practicing how to interact properly with the interface – which admittedly sounds a great deal easier than having to keep an eye on a thousand different buttons. 

While the addition of the touchscreens definitely brings space flight into the 21st century, it’s unlikely that they will become a standard feature of all spacecraft going forward. Hurley’s co-pilot, Bob Behnken, said, “I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say that the right answer for all flying is not to switch to a touchscreen, necessarily.” That being said, for the purposes of this trip to the ISS, he says, “the touchscreen is gonna provide us that capability just fine.”