Space Station Spies a Dragon Flying Below: Big Pic

The Dragon capsule, with solar panels extended, carries out its "fly-under" of the ISS, clouds forming the backdrop below

May 24, 2012 — On Thursday morning, Space Exploration Technologies' Dragon capsule successfully carried out a complex set of orbital maneuvers around the International Space Station (ISS). The SpaceX Dragon edged 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the orbiting outpost completing a "fly-under" to give the astronauts onboard the ISS this historic photo opportunity.

During the maneuvers, Dragon tested its UHF communications unit and switched on its relative GPS system — used to decipher the relative positions of the capsule and ISS. All systems performed just as they should.

ANALYSIS: SpaceX Dragon Aces Orbital Driving Test

Now the final and most critical test awaits the first commercially built unmanned spacecraft to visit the ISS. On May 25, it will carry out a second flyby and then make its closest approach to the station yet, coming within grappling distance of the station's 58-ft long Canadarm2. Berthing is expected to occur at around 11:20 a.m. EDT after Expedition 31 Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers have grabbed the cargo ship with the robotic arm.

Once the Dragon is attached, it is scheduled to spend a week docked to the space station where cargo can be unloaded and reloaded with items to be sent back to Earth. On May 31, it will splash down off the coast of California where it will be retrieved.

BIG PIC: SpaceX Ready for Historic Mission to Space Station

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