Shuttle flight is delayed; Obama visits Giffords

Posted April 29, 2011, at 8:18 p.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The president was on his way. Space shuttle Endeavour’s astronauts were riding out to the launch pad in a van. And a wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had flown in from her Houston rehab hospital to watch her husband blast off Friday on the historic, next-to-last shuttle mission.

Then it all came to a sudden stop.

Without warning, a faulty heater part forced NASA to scrub the launch and slam the brakes on the space agency’s biggest event in years, a flight made more fascinating to many by the plight of Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, the mission commander.

Endeavour’s flight was delayed until at least Monday.

“Bummed about the scrub!! But important to make sure everything on shuttle is working properly,” Giffords’ staff tweeted.

Travel plans for the Arizona congresswoman, who is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head from an assassination attempt in January, are still up in the air, said her spokesman, C.J. Karamargin. He said she is waiting until Sunday when NASA should know more about a possible launch date.

President Barack Obama and his family came to Cape Canaveral anyway, and he and his family met with Giffords for about 10 minutes. Karamargin said only that Giffords was pleased to meet with them.

Engineers aren’t certain what part on the heating system — needed for launch and landing — needs to be replaced. To fix the heater, technicians will have to crawl into the engine compartment. If it is a simple fix, NASA could make another launch attempt as early as Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but if not, the flight could be delayed to May 8 or later, said launch director Mike Leinbach.

If NASA tries on Monday, the president can’t make it, Cabana said.

After Endeavour, there is only one more shuttle flight — by Atlantis — before NASA ends the 30-year-old program and the orbiters become museum pieces.

When Endeavour finally flies, it will be the last mission in its 19-year history. It will deliver a $2 billion instrument that will search the universe for antimatter and dark energy.

Tammi Flythe, among the thousands gathered across the Indian River in Titusville with her two children, was disappointed at the postponement. They had driven from Tampa, about 130 miles across the state.

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

At the space center, astronaut Clayton Anderson was typically stoic.

“Of course, it’s always disappointing, especially for the crew,” he said. “NASA has a great safety record and they’re going to do it the right way.”

 

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