Giffords at husband’s launch on 2nd last shuttle
During the 16-day mission, Giffords will provide two wake-up songs dedicated to Kelly and she will talk to him in a video conference. Late Monday, that wake-up call was “Beautiful Day” by U2. Kelly thanked his wife for it.
This is the 25th and final flight of Endeavour, the baby of NASA’s shuttle fleet. It was built to replace Challenger, destroyed during liftoff 25 years ago this past January, and made its maiden journey six years later to capture and repair a stranded satellite. That first flight ended 19 years ago Monday.
Endeavour carried the first Hubble Space Telescope repair team, which famously restored the observatory’s vision in 1993, and the first American piece of the space station in 1998.
It will end its days at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. NASA’s last shuttle flight, by Atlantis, is targeted for July.
American astronauts, meanwhile, will continue to hitch rides to the space station on Russian Soyuz rockets. Private companies hope to pick up the slack, but that’s still years away. The White House wants NASA focusing on eventual expeditions to asteroids and Mars.
On Monday, spectators packed area roads and towns to see Endeavour soar one last time, although the turnout was larger for Discovery’s last hurrah in February on a Friday afternoon. Titusville Assistant Police Chief John Lau guessed the crowd at between 350,000 and 400,000.
Ohioan Stan Oliver made a last-minute trip and slept in his car in Titusville to catch the launch.
“This is a once in a lifetime event,” he said. “It was worth it. The roar was intense. I’m glad I came.”
AP writers Mike Schneider in Titusville, Fla., and Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.