On November 15, 2020, four astronauts left Cape Canaveral for the ISS about the SpaceX Dragon Crew-1 mission. Did any of them fly it or were they simply paying passengers in a space craft that essentially flew itself?

I know that the Dragon flew to the ISS and back in an unmanned condition last year so it clearly doesn't NEED a skilled pilot to get it to the ISS, dock, undock, and land. I'm not clear though if the people aboard the Nov 15 2020 flight actually flew it even though the internal systems could have done it unassisted.

I watched some of the livestream of the docking and the video feed showed people touching touch screens but the voiceover also made it clear that the last part of the docking was "hands-off", which apparently meant that humans were not required to control the docking, although they could presumably have overridden the system and docked manually if they'd wanted.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a subtle, touchy point. They do not wish to be spam in a can, as Mercury complained... But the Dragon mostly flies itself. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ Does a pilot who engages the autopilot actually pilot an aircraft? $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ All the Crew Dragon panels I've seen on video have been touchscreens. That's not a good idea for pilot control aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/22729/… $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Those touchscreens might be controlling lots of different stuff (communications, ambient music ... even videogames) so no real indication of anyone piloting anything. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ I would consider whoever was watching the flight status, monitoring the flight computer and communicate with ground control, a pilot. Just like the fact that the first officer was flying an airplane doesn't make the captain a passenger. But on the other hand, we are pretty close to launching mission specialists/passengers automoisly but I don't think anyone tried it yet. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 20, 2020 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


Dragon 2 is fully autonomous. It has to be because the same platform is used for crew and cargo missions, and obviously, there is no crew on a cargo mission.

Dragon 2 can be manually controlled, but that is considered a contingency scenario. Manual control was tested during the Demo-2 mission, but it is not expected to be used normally.

To my knowledge, this contingency capability was not required nor tested during Crew-1.


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