This computer generated image provided by SpaceX shows its Dragon spacecraft with solar panels deployed.

Private SpaceX capsule prepares to dock with space station today

LOS ANGELES — SpaceX's cone-shaped space capsule performed a series of delicate maneuvers in outer space that proved to NASA officials that it was ready to move in for this morning's historic docking attempt with the International Space Station.

"We're looking good across the board," John Couluris, SpaceX lead mission director, said in a Thursday news briefing.

SpaceX, officially named Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is aiming to become the world's first private firm to dock a craft with the space station. The mission is considered the first test of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's plan to outsource space missions to private companies now that its fleet of space shuttles is retired.

The Hawthorne, Calif., company aims to prove to NASA that its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule are ready to take on the task of hauling cargo — and eventually astronauts — for the space agency.

On Thursday, SpaceX's Dragon capsule came within 11/2; miles of the space station while orbiting Earth at about 17,000 mph. It underwent a series of tests that checked onboard sensors and flight systems to determine whether the vehicle would be ready to berth with the space station.

The crew aboard the space station also monitored the Dragon's fly-by and, in a key moment, successfully sent a command to the capsule to turn on its strobe light.

"There was no deviation from our preflight plan," said NASA Flight Director Holly Ridings. "There's still a lot of new things the team has to perform and the vehicle has to perform."

Once the Thursday morning effort was complete, the Dragon fired its engines and began a loop out in front, above and then behind the station in a racetrack-like pattern at a distance of between 4 and 6 miles, the company said. This maneuver enabled the spacecraft to be ready for today's docking.

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