Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed

By Attila Nagy on at

When you drive, the second most important thing you should keep your eyes on is the dashboard of your car (the first thing being the road). In space, however, it’s the controls that are the most essential for navigating and operating your spacecraft. From Gagarin to Scott Kelly, here’s a brief visual history of the human-spacecraft interface.

If we look at all the main instrument panels humankind has designed and built during the past 55 years, we can see how the display and control system of spacecraft have become more complex and sophisticated and back again. The following set of images will place you in front of dozens of analog and digital instruments, displays, hand controllers, pedals, levers and switches that astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts have used over the years, and what they will use moving forward.

Consider the Space Shuttle, which had nearly two thousand switches and controls; a far cry from the Vostok-1 control board and display, which had only about 25 switches and controls for cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin to use on his historic flight (see the second photo below).

Now, the age of touch screens and ever-smarter software is clearing up the spacecraft flight deck.

Vostok, 1960-1963, Voskhod, 1964-1965 spacecraft

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: AP

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Screencap: Andrew Bodrov/360cities

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: собственная работа/Wikimedia Commons


Mercury spacecraft’s instruments and controls, 1961

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA


The North American X-15 spaceplane, 1960s

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: USAF/NASA DFRC

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: U.S. Air Force


Gemini spacecraft’s displays and controls, 1965

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA


Soyuz (1967–)

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Charles Simonyi

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: GTCT

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Bill Ingalls/NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: S. Corvaja/ESA


Apollo Lunar Module, 1968-1972

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Mark Avino, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution


Apollo Command Module, 1968-1973

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA


Space Shuttle Columbia cockpit, 1980 and 1998

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA


Buran, 1984-1988

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Toekneesan

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: pilot_micha


Space Shuttle Atlantis’ new full-color flat panel Multifunction Electronic Display Subsystem (MEDS), also called the “glass cockpit”, 1999.

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA


SpaceShipOne, 2003

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Jim Campbell/AP

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Screencap: Lightspeed Media LLC/SNASM


China’s Shenzhou spacecraft, 2008

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: AP/Xinhua

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Xinhua/Qin Xian’an


Space Shuttle Discovery, 2011

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Kim Shiflett/NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Ken Thornsley/NASA


Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser, 2013

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: David C. Bowman/NASA


SpaceX Crew Dragon dashboard, 2014

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: SpaceX

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: SpaceX

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: SpaceX


NASA Orion Spacecraft cockpit, 2014

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Radislav Sinyak/NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Robert Markowitz/NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: NASA


SpaceX Crew Dragon dashboard as of June 11, 2015

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: SpaceX

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: SpaceX/SpaceX


Russia’s Federation spacecraft, Roscosmos’ next generation Soyuz-TMA replacement, 2015.

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Andrey Stanovov/Roscosmos

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Andrey Stanovov/Roscosmos

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Andrey Stanovov/Roscosmos


Boeing CST-100 Starliner, 2015.

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Robert Markowitz/NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Bill Stafford/NASA

Here's How Spacecraft Dashboards Evolved, and Where They're Headed 

Image: Boeing/NASA