From the Orlando Sentinel.......
Space Shuttle Endeavour is set to make its final launch April 29. But as it roars aloft through the mid-afternoon sky, the focus may be on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she witnesses her husband Mark Kelly's start of a 14-day mission.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who was critically wounded in the Tucson shooting that killed six people and wounded 12 others on Jan. 8, hopes to mark a huge milestone in her recovery by traveling to Kennedy Space Center to watch her husband's launch, his fourth. Giffords has made a steady and, her doctors say, remarkable recovery since being shot in the head by an attempted assassin.
On Tuesday, NASA's flight readiness team at Kennedy Space Center finished its evaluations of Endeavour, its crew and all mission-critical issues, and declared everything ready. NASA then officially set the launch for 3:47 p.m. April 29, for rendezvous with the International Space Station.
The flight will be Endeavour's 25th, starting with its maiden voyage on May 7, 1992, and last.NASA's newest orbiter will be the second to be retired, following Discovery, which completed its work when it landed for the final time on March 9. Atlantis will be the last to launch, now scheduled for late June.
Kelly, a U.S Navy captain, will command Endeavour. He and a crew of five other astronauts will have plenty of work to do during NASA's next-to-last shuttle mission.
Chief among them: they'll be delivering and installing the alpha magnetic spectrometer-2, a $1.5-billion device that's been in development for 12 years, and delayed several times.
The spectrometer will provide physicists their most powerful tool yet to study the farthest reaches of the universe, to help understand its origins. The device is designed to detect charged particles of cosmic rays that are released by exploding stars. These could include dark matter and antimatter, two elusive missing pieces in physicists' theories of the makeup of the universe.
Endeavour also will carry another space station component, called the Express Logistics Carrier-3, as well as spare parts, a high-pressure gas tank and micro-meteoroid shields for the space station. The mission will require four space walks by Endeavour astronauts.
Giffords has been recovering in a rehabilitation center in Houston since late January. On April 8, her congressional office released a statement saying that doctors at the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston will have the final word on whether she can attend. "Our office is making plans for her to attend, pending medical approval," the statement read.
Giffords is not expected to make any public appearances.
The other Endeavour astronauts are Greg Johnson, a retired Air Force colonel, who will be the pilot; Air Force Col. Mike Fincke, European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori, Drew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff, all mission specialists.