Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Good Chance" Giffords Will Attend Launch

The commander of Endeavour's 25th and final flight said today that it's looking more and more like his wife -- critically wounded shooting victim U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D. Ariz. -- will be able to attend the planned April 19 launch of NASA's penultimate shuttle mission.

"I’ve said on a few occasions I’d like her to attend the launch. She wants to attend. She’s been looking forward to this for a long time. As one of NASA’s biggest supporters in Congress, you know, she was really looking forward to having the opportunity to be there. And I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to happen," said veteran NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.

"We still don’t know for sure, and I’m just awaiting, you know, final approval from her doctors."

Giffords, a member of the House subcommittee that oversees NASA, was shot in the head during a Jan. 8 assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and more than a dozen wounded. She now is a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas, which is home to NASA's Johnson Space Center and the NASA Astronaut Office.

"She’s doing remarkably well. She’s improving every day, and in the realm of brain injuries, that is very significant and pretty rare," Kelly told reporters at a news conference.

"She spends most of her day in therapy, enjoys brief visits from friends and colleagues. She was really happy to see my brother last week after he returned from space," added Kelly, whose twin brother, Scott, also is an astronaut and just returned from a six-month expedition to the International Space Station. "She gets staff briefings from her staff when they’re in town on what’s going on with her office and the district and what’s going on in Congress."

Kelly and five other astronauts are slated to blast off from Kennedy Space Center at 7:48 p.m. April 19, setting sail on a mission to deliver a sophisticated cosmic ray detector to the International Space Station. Also flying up will be a two large communications antennas, an oxygen tank, an ammonia tank and spare parts for the Canadian robot Dextre.

The pilot for the 14-day flight is Gregory "Box" Johnson and there are four mission specialists: Gregory Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel, Micheal Fincke and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency.

The astronauts will fly to KSC next week for emergency training at the launch pad and a two-day practice countdown. Kelly said he and his crew are happy to be putting the finishing touches on an 18-month training flow.

"So we’re getting pretty close to the end and we’re ready to do this. And excited about it."

An April 19 launch would lead to Endeavour's final landing on May 3.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the NASA photo of Endeavour glistening in the sun on Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. You can also click the enlarged image to get an even bigger, more detailed view. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

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