- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2011

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA unanimously approved a Monday-morning launch attempt for the space shuttle Endeavour, after reviewing all the repairs for an electrical problem that grounded the next-to-last shuttle flight two weeks ago.

The flight to the International Space Station will be commanded by Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically wounded during a January shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz. She was present for the first launch attempt and arrived in Florida on Sunday afternoon for tomorrow’s.

A posting on the congresswoman’s Facebook page says she flew in on a NASA jet and got a quick fly-by of Endeavour at the pad. Ms. Gifford, Arizona Democrat, arrived with the family of Endeavour pilot Gregory Johnson.

The shuttle is scheduled to be fueled late Sunday night.

Forecasters put the odds of good weather at 70 percent. The main concerns are stiff crosswind and low clouds.

“Looks like we r flying !!!” astronaut Mike Fincke said in a Twitter update late Saturday afternoon.

Mission management team chairman Mike Moses said Saturday he is confident the repairs took care of the electrical short and blown fuse that prevented a string of heaters from turning on during the first launch attempt April 29. A thermostat with an exposed wire was replaced, as was a switch box with a blown fuse.

“In our minds, we are good to go,” Mr. Moses told reporters.

Launch director Mike Leinbach said an estimated 500,000 spectators are expected to jam area roads and communities in advance of Monday’s scheduled 8:56 a.m. launch. That’s more than the crowd for Discovery’s final launch in February but far short of what was anticipated for Endeavour’s launch attempt April 29.

“They’re not quite expecting that big surge … but still it will be a heck of a traffic jam,” Mr. Leinbach said. Because of the clogged roads, NASA may opt for a two-day delay rather than the usual one day, if Monday’s try is called off in the final few hours of the countdown. Launch controllers need to be able to get home and rest, he said.

President Obama and his family were among those who traveled to Kennedy Space Center last month hoping to see a launch. He met with the astronauts and visited with Ms. Giffords, but he won’t return Monday.

“I sure would have liked to have him come back,” Mr. Leinbach said. “We did all that work for him, and now he’s not going to get to see a launch.” It’s possible, he noted, that the president may come for the very last shuttle launch in July.

Mr. Leinbach was thrilled that Ms. Giffords will be present for the launch. As before, she will remain off-limits to the public and even most space center employees. Five other members of Congress also will attend.

“It will be a terrific time for her,” Mr. Leinbach said, “and Mark just can’t wait to see her back here. That’s good stuff.”

The congresswoman has been undergoing rehabilitation in Houston, her husband’s home base, for a gunshot wound to the head.

Capt. Kelly and five other veteran spacemen are assigned to the 16-day flight. They will deliver a $2 billion particle physics detector — a project led by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist — as well as critical space station spare parts.

Atlantis will close out the 30-year space shuttle program with a July flight.

As the program winds down, layoff notices went out last week to nearly 2,000 shuttle contract workers at NASA’s launch site. They will lose their jobs this summer, once Atlantis takes flight for the last time.

Mr. Leinbach said the timing of those notices is unfortunate, coming right in the middle of a launch countdown.

“The mood is a little bit downcast right now,” he said, “but … I have no worries at all about the team being able to make the right calls on Monday.”

Associated Press writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this article.

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