The first privately operated spacecraft to head for the International Space Station should be dancing with the flying laboratory by early today as both fly around Earth at 17,000 mph.
The Dragon space capsule, launched by SpaceX from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station early Tuesday, was set to come within 1.5 miles of the station as it orbits about 200 miles above Earth and then perform a series of test maneuvers.
SpaceX and NASA hope to open a new era of space transportation in which private companies take over cargo — and, ultimately, crew — deliveries previously handled by the now-retired NASA space shuttles and by government-run spacecraft from Russia, Japan and Europe.
Today's dance will test how well Dragon can be maneuvered by remote control, first by controllers at NASA Mission Control in Houston's Johnson Space Center and then by astronauts on-board the space station.
If Dragon passes all its tests today, docking is scheduled for Friday morning.