CAPE CANAVERAL — The world's first private supply ship flew tantalizingly close to the International Space Station on Thursday, acing a critical test in advance of the actual docking.
The unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule flew within 1 ½ miles of the orbiting lab as it performed a practice lap and checkout of its communication and navigation systems.
Officials at NASA and the SpaceX company declared the rendezvous a success and said the historic linkup is on track for today.
It is the first U.S. vessel to visit the space station since NASA's shuttles retired last summer — and the first private spacecraft to ever attempt a delivery. The Dragon is carrying 1,000 pounds of provisions.
Thursday's accomplishment "is a big confidence boost. Everyone's very excited," said SpaceX mission director John Couluris. After working all night and into the wee hours, he urged his team to go home and rest up for today. "It's exciting to be an American and part of putting American spacecraft into orbit, and we're very proud right now."
NASA flight director Holly Ridings said the mood is upbeat on her side as well, but noted potential obstacles ahead.
"This is still definitely a demonstration flight," she said.
SpaceX wants to join Russia, Europe and Japan in resupply duties and eventually launch station astronauts.