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Giffords confirms plans to watch Endeavour launch

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Giffords confirms plans to watch Endeavour launch

  • Giffords

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford plans to travel to Florida to watch as her husband blasts off aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on Monday, her office confirmed Friday.

Endeavour is scheduled to launch at 5:56 a.m. on Monday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Capt. Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, will command the shuttle on its last mission, the second-to-last for the program.

Giffords' transportation to Florida will be provided by NASA, which flies all astronaut spouses to space launches, her office said in a press release.

After the launch, Gifford will return to Houston, where she is undergoing rehab after being shot through the brain on Jan. 8 in what authorities charge was an assassination attempt.

Due to privacy concerns and in deference to the family wishes, no additional details regarding the congresswoman’s travel will be released, her office said.

Giffords will not meet with the media or issue a statement while she is in Florida, her office said.

Her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, is expected to appear at a post-launch press conference to discuss Giffords' reaction to her husband's final mission aboard the shuttle.

Delayed launches

Giffords who had traveled to Florida two weeks ago to watch Endeavour begin its final mission, returned to a Houston rehab center when the launch was delayed.

A failed heater in a hydraulic system forced NASA to cancel an April 29 launch.

"Based on the amount of time needed to do the fix, a new shuttle launch attempt will not happen before the end of the week, at the soonest," NASA tweeted last Sunday.

The launch was scrubbed after the heaters on one of Endeavour's power units failed about four hours before liftoff.

"There was no point continuing with the countdown," said launch commentator George Diller. "The external tank has to be drained to be able to do some electrical testing."

The heaters on "the system we use to generate hydraulic power" failed to come on during testing, said Mike Moses, the launch integration manager for space shuttle program, at a press conference.

Crew members, including Kelly, were on the way to the launch pad when NASA decided to postpone the flight.

The 134th space shuttle mission is to be the next to last flight for the program.

Endeavour will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a device built to search the universe for dark matter and antimatter, to the International Space Station.

The mission is to include the last-ever scheduled spacewalk by a shuttle crew.

Just one other shuttle mission remains, a summer space flight by Atlantis scheduled for June 28. That mission could be pushed back if the launch of Endeavour continues to be scrubbed.

The Endeavour launch was first delayed from April 19 because Russia plans to send an unmanned cargo rocket to the International Space Station on April 27. NASA did not want the shuttle docked at the space station when the other ship arrived.

Giffords, a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, attended Kelly's most recent launch when he commanded the space shuttle Discovery in 2008.

Kelly's upcoming mission is scheduled to be the last flight for Endeavour and the next-to-last space shuttle flight before the fleet is retired later this year. Shuttle Atlantis will blast off on the final shuttle mission in July.

Giffords recovering

Giffords is recovering from a shot to the head in what authorities charge was a Jan. 8 assassination attempt. Six were killed and 13 wounded, including the congresswoman, in the mass shooting at a constituent meet-and-greet.

She was moved to a Houston rehab facility two weeks after being wounded. Doctors have said her recovery is "remarkable."

Giffords is "doing remarkably well," her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said at a NASA press conference last month.

"She's improving every day," Kelly said. "She's starting to walk, talk more, more every day."

"She's starting to process some of the tragedy, that we all went through in January—she's going through that as we speak," he said.

"Despite that, she remains in a very good mood."

Accused faces 49 federal charges

In March, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, was charged with 49 federal counts in the Jan. 8 attack. Not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf by the court.

Fourteen of the charges Loughner faces could result in the death penalty, if the prosecution seeks it. No decision of hether to ask for capital punishment has been made, authorities have said.

Loughner was returned to a Tucson prison this week, after undergoing a compentency examination in Missouri. He is due in court May 25 for a hearing to determine his ability to understand the charges against him and participate in his defense. The hearing will not address his mental state at the time of the shootings.

Loughner will likely face local charges in the shooting incident, authorities have said.

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