- Associated Press - Friday, April 29, 2011

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. (AP) - The historic next-to-last space shuttle launch was scratched Friday because of mechanical problems, spoiling a visit from the president and dashing the hopes of the biggest crowd of spectators in years, including the mission commander’s wounded wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

NASA hopes to try again Monday to launch space shuttle Endeavour on its final voyage.

President Barack Obama and his family stopped at Kennedy Space Center anyway where he met briefly with the Arizona congresswoman before visiting with her husband, Mark Kelly and his crew. Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, arrived in Cape Canaveral on Wednesday to attend her husband’s launch.

She hasn’t been seen publicly since the Jan. 8 assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz., and left her Houston rehabilitation hospital for the first time to travel to Florida. A close friend said her family indicated she would stay in Florida at least until Monday. The friend asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the family. Giffords‘ staff could not be reached for comment.

Giffords had been expected to watch the liftoff in private _ as were the other astronaut families.

“Bummed about the scrub!! But important to make sure everything on shuttle is working properly,” her staff said via Twitter.

Endeavour was fueled and the six astronauts were heading to the launch pad when the countdown was halted, about 3 1/2 hours before the 3:47 p.m. liftoff. NASA’s silver-colored astrovan did a U-turn at the launch control center and returned them to crew quarters.

It would have been the first time in NASA history that a sitting president and his family witnessed a launch. As a consolation, Obama and his family got an up-close look at Atlantis. It will make the last shuttle flight this summer as NASA winds up the 30-year program and retires the fleet to museums.

The president and Michelle Obama met briefly with Endeavour’s crew. Obama told them he’s hoping to get back to Florida for a shuttle launch.

“One more chance, we may be able to get down here,” Obama said.

Launch director Mike Leinbach said the next launch try for Endeavour would be Monday at the earliest _ and hinted at an even longer delay. Technicians will have to crawl into the engine compartment to track a suspected electrical short in a power distribution box.

“We’ll fly no orbiter before its time, and today she just wasn’t ready to go,” Leinbach said.

As many as 700,000 spectators had been expected to crowd nearby coastal communities. For days, police have been warning of massive traffic delays.

Tammi Flythe, among the thousands gathered across the Indian River in Titusville with her two children, was crushed. They traveled in from Tampa, about 130 miles across the state.

“I really wanted my son to experience this,” she said.

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