NASA announces launch dates, backup commander

by Jason Rhian on January 13, 2011

The STS-134 commander, Mark Kelly, has been provided with a backup, Rick Sturckow, so that he can focus on his wife's recovery. Photo Credit: NASA.gov

In the wake of the tragedy that took place last week in Tucson, Arizona, NASA has announced that astronaut Rick Sturckow will serve as backup commander for the STS-134 mission on the shuttle – Endeavour. This was decided so that the remainder of the crew could move forward with training during the absence of current STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly.

Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was wounded in a shooting on Jan. 8, at an outdoor event at a Safeway supermarket, dubbed “Congress on your Corner.” She was shot in the head by alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner. Loughner, who listed the Communist Manifesto as one of his favorite books, shot a total of 18 people, six of whom have died. Loughner has a long history of mental instability, drug use and run-ins with the law.

Both STS-133 and STS-134 have had launch dates announced. Image Credit: NASA.gov

The final flight of Endeavour is currently scheduled for Apr. 19 – Kelly remains commander of the mission.

“Mark is still the commander of STS-134,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office. “He is facing many uncertainties now as he supports Gabrielle, and our goal is to allow him to keep his undistracted attention on his family while allowing preparations for the mission to progress. Designating a backup allows the crew and support team to continue training, and enables Mark to focus on his wife’s care.”

Sturckow will start his training next week at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Texas with the remainder of the STS-134 crew, Pilot Greg Johnson and Mission Specialists; Mike Fincke, Roberto Vittori, Andrew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff.

Endeavour’s final, 14-day, mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02). It will also contain much-needed spare parts including two S-band antennas, a gas tank, and spare parts for Canada’s Dextre robot.

NASA is hoping to launch Discovery at 4:50 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Feb. 24, on the orbiter’s STS-133 mission to the orbiting outpost. Endeavour’s final mission, STS-134, is currently slated to take place at 7:48 p.m. EDT on Apr. 19. The dates were chosen Thursday during the shuttle program’s weekly Program Requirements Control Board meeting (PRCB). Normally launch dates are confirmed about two weeks prior to launch, and as always, these dates are subject to various conditions – and to change.

From left-to-right, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Navy Captain and astronaut Mark Kelly. Photo Credit: Tucsoncitizen

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