April 21, 2011

Obamas To Attend Endeavor Launch With Giffords

A White House official said Wednesday that President Barack Obama, along with his family, would be at the planned April 29 liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavour.

This launch is the next-to-last planned flight of the 30-plus year old space shuttle program.

The purpose of this flight will be to deliver the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, or AMS. A particle detector designed to detect dark matter, antimatter and other exotic phenomena from earth orbit.

Also planning to be in attendance will be Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wife of shuttle commander Mark Kelly, according to the Associated Press (AP). Giffords survived an assassination attempt on January 8 while meeting with constituents in Tucson.

Giffords husband, shuttle commander Kelly took a month's leave to be at her hospital bedside, before returning to Houston to resume flight training, according to Reuters. She's now undergoing extensive rehab at a Houston hospital.

After being informed of the special guests from the white house, Giffords replied, "Awesome."

NASA already has been working on security and other issues surrounding Giffords' possible attendance at the Kennedy Space Center launch has preceded with some security considerations put into place. She will be in a VIP area, out of public view.

It was not immediately known whether the Obamas would be with the congresswoman for the afternoon liftoff. The president had already planned to be in Florida later that day to give a commencement address at Miami Dade College.

President Obama will be only the third sitting president to witness a manned NASA launch. President Richard Nixon was on hand for the 1969 launch of Apollo 12 which first placed astronauts onto the surface of the moon. President Bill Clinton and his wife saw Sen. John Glenn launch aboard shuttle Discovery in 1998.

One year ago, the president was at Kennedy Space Center to outline his post-shuttle plan of sending astronauts to an asteroid and ultimately Mars. The president is calling for private companies to replace the shuttle's function of delivering crew and cargo to the space station, so NASA can focus on deep space.

An Atlantis flight will close out NASA's 30-year shuttle program at the end of June.


Image Caption: Crews move the primary payload for space shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission into the Payload Changeout Room on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The rotating service structure, which protects the shuttle from the elements and provides access to its components, is open to allow crews to make the vertical move. Image credit: NASA


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