CHICAGO (CBS) — An unmanned capsule operated by a private company is in pursuit of the International Space Station this morning, and it’s space history in the making.

“The Dragon capsule is really the next step in the U.S. Space Program,” said Professor Steven Collicott at Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Grzanich reports

Collicott says SpaceX has every right to be excited by the success so far of the capsule called Dragon. The vehicle will likely replace the space shuttle and eventually the Russian Soyuz as NASA’s main ride on missions to the space station.

According to Collicott, there’s always been private involvement with NASA but SpaceX takes that to the next level.

“NASA would set forth a set of requirements and the companies would design and build them and operate them,” Collicott said. “Industry was involved all along, so it’s not a big change so much as it is a shift.”

If everything goes well, Dragon will rendezvous with the space station in the next few days. It is carrying groceries and other non-essential supplies.

Collicott says everything will have to be going perfectly before Dragon is allowed to get close to the space station.

“There’s a series of steps and the constant evaluation of performance and is the Dragon capsule performing as intended and if it’s not performing as intended then one does not proceed,” he said.

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