By Gina Sunseri
HOUSTON (updated) — The space shuttle Endeavour is on a 2,700 mile cross-country trip — so you had to wonder if it couldn’t make one small detour. Especially at the request of former astronaut Mark Kelly, who commanded Endeavour’s last mission before it was retired?
Kelly’s wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was struggling to recover from an attempted assassination in Tucson early last year, and his mission to the International Space Station conflicted with her recovery, so his decision to command it was bittersweet, but he had been training for so long, and had faith in the medical team treating his wife.
Endeavour is flying a victory lap across the South, taking off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, dropping from 14,000 feet to 1,500 to circle historic locations in space shuttle history. The orbiter, on top of its 747 carrier plane, circled over Houston and the Johnson Space Center today. Endeavour will overnight in Houston, then head to El Paso, where it will refuel, then arrive in Los Angeles late in the week. It is to go on permanent display at the California Science Center.
Mark Kelly’s request for Endeavour to make a detour and fly over Tucson, so Giffords could see it one last time, wouldn’t take it that far out of the way, especially when the idea was for it to be seen anyhow.
The last-minute suggestion was a bit of a surprise to NASA, but late in the day it put out a statement saying it would honor Kelly’s request.
“As part of the delivery of Endeavour to Los Angeles, Endeavour will be flown over the city of Tucson,” said the agency. “NASA decided to honor that request to pay our respects to a long-time agency supporter in former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Kelly, who commanded Endeavour’s final mission, STS-134. The flight over Tucson will add no additional time or cost to the delivery of Endeavour.”