Science & Technology

Spaceships: Capsule Design

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 19:42 min

Learn the virtues and drawbacks of using the capsule model for human transport to space as Chris analyzes the designs of the Apollo, Gemini, Lunar Lander, and Soyuz.

Chris Hadfield
Teaches Space Exploration
In 28+ lessons, the former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.
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A spaceship is essentially a little sample of the earth taken off the planet, a little bubble of life away from the natural place where we all began. You need to bring along the things that keep you alive. You need to bring air, oxygen, something to breathe. You need water. We can't go very long without water. You need to control the temperature so it doesn't get too hot, too cold. Eventually you're going to need food. You need something that can process the body's waste, the waste gases that I breathe and all the rest of the waste the body produces. A spaceship needs to provide all of those normal earthly things, but away from the planet. In order to make a machine that can keep at least one astronaut alive way out in the thermal vacuum of space is extremely complicated. If we were willing to have astronauts die all the time, it gets way simpler. But if we actually want to have the astronaut live, then you have to try and think of everything. And on top of the thermal requirements and the air-pressure requirements and the water and the waste and everything, you're also weightless. Nothing is going to behave the same on the spaceship as it does back on earth. The fluids won't go to the bottom of the tank. Will the astronaut be able to swallow and breathe? What will happen the blood-pressure regulation? How do you do everything when heat doesn't rise, when there's no gravity? It's a whole new world of problems, and it was one that took several decades to get to the state that we're at right now. So what do you actually need to keep a crew alive and healthy and productive inside a spaceship? If we just look at an airplane of course, this little early jet could just barely take us out of the bubble where we can naturally live. It could go high enough where the air was so thin that we couldn't just fly along with the canopy open like this. We had to have a way, in this early F-86, of being able to pressurize the cockpit, to have a little bubble of life way up in the sky in an environment where otherwise life couldn't exist. And sort of that's like the initial early stages of a spaceship, taking a little bubble that provides just the minimum that, in this case, the pilot needs in order to safely survive somewhere away from the cradle of earth itself. But to go higher, this little bubble needs to get more and more complicated and more and more capable. One of the earliest spaceships was the Gemini capsule. It looked a lot like the Mercury capsule. You can tell this is a Gemini because it's got the twins, two seats, Gemini. But this was one of the very first space ships, as simple as we could make it, but a big tradeoff between all of the things we needed. Essentially it's a little cockpit. It has air pressure inside. And it's got this whole section here for systems to keep you alive, to take your breath and process it through some carbon dioxide removal system so that you can continue to breathe oxygen. It's got a thermal regulat...

Explore the unknown

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I loved thephilosophy of the class and the insights into interspective goal setting and leadership. As an engineer I was hoping for more technical discussions but I understand that there is a strong possibility that this would have gone over the heads of many viewers and would be seen as uninteresting.

3rd lesson here on Masterclass. By far the best. Though I'm a music composer, I do have a fascination for space and Chris speech was very eloquent and I appreciated the fact that he knew how to speak in lamen terms. This is the kind of knowledge we should be promoting in the world.

This course was amazing! My oldest daughter is very excited about the future of space exploration and we all loved the stories and insight.

Chris has inspired me to set goals for myself and go to college to achieve them.



“If we were willing to have astronauts die all the time, it gets way simpler.” I just cracked up.

Todd G.

Thank you Mr Hadfield. The class on fear (& getting on with it) inspired me to address my own (finish things). "The best antidote for fear is competence" - Chris Hadfield.

laura J.

Thankyou Masterclass for helping with download; it is 97 pages of wonderful information, I am really impressed. I love this class.

Sergio N A.

I was able to follow all the Freedom 7, Gemini, and Apollo Projects before through the USIS library in Davao city, Philippines and these opened up my interest on Space, Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology . My latest study was on "Sciences behind living in Mars" and "Quantum Gravity". Life support system is an important aspect of any spaceship design. The ISS is an advancement of the days primitive ones during the Gemini and Apollo but further development on CELSS is in order for space ships larger than the ISS .From Sergio Andres Jr.

Greg D.

My father said back in the day they used parachutes to land on the moon in 1969. Later they found out there was no atmosphere on the moon so they changed their story. According to my father, there was no moon landing in 1969. If it was possible back then, how come we don't go there every few years?!

Isabel P.

I am enjoying this course so much, it is so good to be 73 and still enjoy learning about something that you have always had an interest in, thank you Chris for giving us this wonderful class.

Vickie R.

PS IS ig true you drink your own urine while in space? How about a Shirley Temple instead?

Vickie R.

Rocket looks like a GIANT KANISH-- jewish pastry. I wonder what kind of food you set up there in space. I hear it's prety bad. Maybe you could order up from Cafe Roma in Bev Hills?

Weston G.

Dr. Cardinal, the Lunar Lander did ride on the nose of the orbiter, however, on the trip out of earth's atmosphere, the lander would never be able to sustain such stress due to the atmospheric equation. Therefore, the lunar lander was placed inside the adapter directly under the orbiter. Once the second stage decoupled from the orbiter, the lander was revealed, which led to the orbiter making a maneuver to dock with the lander. 14 years old, Weston Garland

Dr C.

He says lunar lander is attached to tip of capsule which is at the very top of rocket. He says lunar lander is not designed to fly through earth atmosphere only lunar atmosphere. So where is lunar lander on blast off from earth?