Gabby Giffords To Resign From Congress

U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) announced today, Sunday Jan. 22, that she will step down from Congress later this week to continue recuperating from critical brain injuries she suffered during a deadly assassination attempt a year ago in Tucson, Arizona.

She announced the resignation on her official congressional website and in a poignant YouTube video message (see above) to her constituents saying that she will “do what is best for Arizona” as she recovers from the shooting attack that happened 1 year ago on Jan. 8, 2011 in her Arizona district.

One of her last official acts will be to attend the State of the Union Address by President Obama on Tuesday, January 24 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Giffords is submitting letters of resignations to House Speaker John Boehner and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. Brewer will call a special primary and general election to fill her seat for the remainder of her term which expires at the end of 2012. The primary election will be held within about 60 days. She represented the 8th Congressional District in southern Arizona.

“Gabby Giffords embodies the very best of what public service should be. She’s universally admired for qualities that transcend party or ideology – a dedication to fairness, a willingness to listen to different ideas, and a tireless commitment to the work of perfecting our union. That’s why the people of Arizona chose Gabby – to speak and fight and stand up for them,” President Obama said in a statement issued Sunday evening. “Gabby’s cheerful presence will be missed in Washington. But she will remain an inspiration to all whose lives she touched – myself included. And I’m confident that we haven’t seen the last of this extraordinary American.”

“I salute Congresswoman Giffords for her service, and for the courage and perseverance she has shown in the face of tragedy. She will be missed,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement issued Sunday.

Before the shooting she was considered to be a rising star in Congress.

Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range. Six people were killed including a 9 year old girl and a Federal Judge and 13 others were wounded.

The 41 year old congresswoman is resigning in order to continue her recovery from the gunshot wounds she suffered a year ago while conducting a ‘meet-and-greet’ with her constituents at a shopping center in Tucson. She has been undergoing intensive rehabilitation over the past year.

U.S. Congresswoman Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona announced on Jan. 22, that she will step down from Congress. This still image is from her official video announcement.

“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week,” Congresswoman Giffords says in the heartfelt two minute video message to her constituents.

“A lot has happened over the past year,” she said in halting words. “We cannot change that. But I know on the issues we fought for, we can change things for the better. Jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together.”

The video features footage of Giffords before and after the attack, some of it quite graphic.

“I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice,” Giffords goes on to say. “Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery. So to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week.”

Giffords was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2006. She was last re-elected in November 2010 and now will not seek re-election this fall.

Gabby Giffords was a strong supporter of NASA and America’s space program.

Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly

She is married to veteran Astronaut Mark Kelly, who commanded the last mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour in May 2011, STS-134. Kelly recently resigned from NASA to continue helping Gabby in her recovery.

The shooting happened as Kelly was in the final stages of training for the STS-134 mission. Kelly temporarily interrupted his training to be with his wife who was in critical condition.

Space Shuttle Endeavour launches on May 16, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center with veteran Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Credit: Ken Kremer

Gabby Giffords has made a remarkable recovery and she continues to improve and inspire all of us every day. She faces a long road of recovery ahead that will require all her efforts to continue making progress.

“Every day my spirit is high. I will return. Thank you !” – Giffords signs off

Astronaut Mark Kelly Retires from NASA

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Astronaut Mark Kelly, commander of the recent STS-134 shuttle mission and husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, announced today via Facebook that he is retiring from NASA and the US Navy to spend time with his wife. Other sources say the two will write a memoir together.

“This was not an easy decision,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Public service has been more than a job for me and my family. My parents are retired police officers. And my wife Gabrielle proudly serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Kelly said that his decision to retire was not at all about questioning the future of NASA, but he feels a need to spend time with his wife and family.

“As life takes unexpected turns we frequently come to a crossroads,” Kelly wrote. “I am at this point today. Gabrielle is working hard every day on her mission of recovery. I want to be by her side. Stepping aside from my work in the Navy and at NASA will allow me to be with her and with my two daughters. I love them all very much and there is no doubt that we will move forward together. After some time off, I will look at new opportunities and am hopeful that one day I will again serve our country.”

Despite persistent rumors on the internet, Kelly has said he has no intentions of seeking public office and is “absolutely” convinced his wife will return to political life.

Rep. Giffords was shot in the head in January, 2011 in Tucson at an event she was hosting for residents of her Congressional district. Six people died and 13 were injured. She was recently released from a rehabilitation hospital in Houston.

Kelly’s retirement from NASA and the Navy, where he has served for 25 years, is effective Oct. 1. He has flown in space four times. According to ABC news, he and his wife said they have a deal with Scribner’s publishers for a joint memoir.

Sources: Facebook, ABC, Arizona Daily Star

STS-134 Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly appears at U2360° Concert in Seattle: Music Video

Check out this out-of-this-world surprise delivered by the rock band U2 to their concert audience at Quest Field, Seattle U2 on the night of June 4;

A video message from STS-134 Shuttle Commander Mark E. Kelly – From the Official U2 YouTube Website

According to the website, “Bono dedicated ‘Beautiful Day’ to Gabby Giffords, before asking, “Imagine a man looking down on us from 200 miles up. Looking down at our beautiful crowded planet… What would he say to us…? What is on your mind Commander Kelly?”

Kelly recorded a special message for his wife, Gabby Giffords, while he was floating inside the Cupola Observation Dome aboard the International Space Station during the STS-134 mission which landed safely on June 1 at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Hello Seattle… from the International Space Station.”

Before finishing on a line from David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ : “I’m looking forward to coming home. Tell my wife I love her very much… she knows,” said Kelly

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U2 has collaborated with NASA since their 2009 world tour to “include a dialogue between the band and the crew of the International Space Station.”

U2360° has worked with NASA and the International Space Station throughout this tour – having previously linked up with Belgian astronaut Commander Frank De Winne, Michael Barratt of NASA, Bob Thirsk of the Canadian Space Agency, Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Gennady Padalka and Roman Romanenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency as well as Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte during his visit to the International Space Station.

“Working with U2 is atypical for NASA,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Space Operations in a NASA statement. “By combining their world tour with the space station’s out-of-this-world mission, more people — and different people than our normal target audiences — learned about the International Space Station and the important work we are doing in orbit.”

Be sure to check out this longer video version – and listen to the cheering crowd

Bono Intro to Beautiful Day with Commander Mark Kelly – U2 – Seattle, WA – June 4, 2011

STS-134 Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my features about the final mission of Endeavour, STS 134, starting here
Era of Space Shuttle Endeavour Ends with June 1 landing at the Kennedy Space Center

Era of Space Shuttle Endeavour Ends with June 1 landing at the Kennedy Space Center

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Space Shuttle Endeavour and her six man crew landed safely today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:35 a.m. EDT following a 16 day journey of more than sixteen million miles.

The STS-134 mission marked the end of Endeavour’s space exploration career. It was the 25th and last space mission by NASA’s youngest orbiter. Altogether, Endeavour has logged 299 days in space, orbited Earth 4,671 times and traveled 122,883,151 miles.

The crew was led by Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly. Also aboard were Pilot Greg H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and the European Space Agency’s Roberto Vittori. Vittori is the last non NASA astronaut to fly on a shuttle mission.

The night landing capped a highly productive flight highlighted by the delivery of the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space Station. AMS is a cosmic ray detector that seeks to unveil the invisible universe and search for evidence of dark matter, strange matter and antimatter.

5 of 6 crew members of STS-134 mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour at post landing press briefing. Credit: Ken Kremer

“What a great ending to this really wonderful mission,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operation at a briefing today for reporters “They’re getting great data from their instrument on board the space station. It couldn’t have gone any better for this mission.”

Mike Leinbach, the Space Shuttle Launch Director, said, “It’s been a great morning at the Kennedy Space Center. Commander Kelly and his crew are in great spirits.”

Four members of the crew conducted 4 spacewalks during the flight, which were the last by shuttle crew members during the space shuttle era. Simultaneously they completed the construction of the US portion of the ISS.

During the flight, Mike Fincke established a new record of 382 days for time a U.S. astronaut has spent in space. He broke the record on May 27, his 377th day on May 27, by surpassing previous record holder Peggy Whitson.

STS-134 was the 134th space shuttle mission and the 36th shuttle mission dedicated to ISS assembly and maintenance.

“You know, the space shuttle is an amazing vehicle, to fly through the atmosphere, hit it at Mach 25, steer through the atmosphere like an airplane, land on a runway, it is really, really an incredible ship,” said Kelly.

“On behalf of my entire crew, I want to thank every person who’s worked to get this mission going and every person who’s worked on Endeavour. It’s sad to see her land for the last time, but she really has a great legacy.”

After the landing at the Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) , Endeavour was towed back into the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) where she will be cleaned and “safed” in preparation for her final resting place – Retirement and public display at the California Science Center in Los Angelos, California.

With the successful conclusion of Endeavour’s mission, the stage is now set for blastoff of the STS-135 mission on July 8, the very final flight of the three decade long shuttle Era.

“We’ve had a lot going on here,” said Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager, “Being able to send Atlantis out to the pad and then go out and land Endeavour was really a combination I never expected to have.

It’s been a heck of a month in the last 4 hours !”

Shuttle Endeavour Landing Photos by Mike Deep for Universe Today

STS-134 Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly. Credit: Ken Kremer
STS-134 Endeavour Post Landing Press Briefing.
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, Mike Moses, Space Shuttle launch integration manager at NASA KSC, Mike Leinbach, Space Shuttle Launch Director at NASA KSC, laud the hard work and dedication of everyone working on the Space Shuttle program. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:

Amazing Photos and Milestone Tributes Mark Last Space Shuttle Spacewalk
Awesome Hi Def Launch Videos from Endeavour
Spectacular Soyuz Photo Gallery shows Unprecedented View Of Shuttle Docked at Station
Ultimate ISS + Shuttle + Earth Photo Op Coming on May 23 from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli
Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Amazing Photos and Milestone Tributes Mark Last Space Shuttle Spacewalk

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Absolutely remarkable exterior panoramic photos of the ISS and tributes by Shuttle Astronauts marked two major milestones in spaceflight history today, May 27; the last spacewalk ever by Space Shuttle Astronauts and the formal completion of the US segment of the International Space Station after 12 years of construction.

Today’s spacewalk by shuttle Endeavour Astronauts Mike Fincke and Greg Chamitoff was the last ever outing in the three decade history of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

Check out the breathtaking photos taken by the astronauts today showing a wide angle view of the complex, including all of shuttle Endeavour at one end and a Russian Soyuz at the other end – backdropped by Earth.

A portion of the ISS and docked Space Shuttle Endeavour.
This image was photographed by a spacewalker, using a fish-eye lens attached to an electronic still camera, during the STS-134 mission's fourth extravehicular activity (EVA). The blackness of space and Earth's horizon provide the backdrop for the scene. Credit: NASA

The seven-hour, 24-minute spacewalk was the fourth and final EVA of the STS-134 mission and simultaneously finished the assembly of the US portion of the orbiting lab complex.

The primary objectives of the spacewalk were to attach Endeavour’s 50-foot-long Orbiter Boom Sensing System (OBSS) and install a new grapple fixture to make the OBSS available to significantly extend the reach of the space station’s robotic arm. The OBSS was used to examine the shuttle’s heat shield tiles. But they are no longer needed aboard the shuttles since they are being retired and was therefore permanently handed over from Endeavour to the station.

This spacewalk was the 159th in support of assembly and maintenance of the ISS which now totals more than 1000 hours of astronaut and cosmonauts work time.

Greg Chamitoff’s amazing twitpic of the ISS, Soyux and ATV
On today's spacewalk @Astro_Taz took the most amazing #ISS px ever Can't wait to see @Astro_Paolo 's from Soyuz.

Gregory Chamitoff marked the milestones with these words of tribute; “At this time, now that we’re almost done here, I wanted to say a few words. This is the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour and it’s also the last spacewalk of shuttle crew members in station assembly.

“It’s kind of fitting that Endeavour is here because Endeavour was the first shuttle to begin construction of the station and so it’s fitting that she’s here for the last mission to finish assembly.

“During this EVA, we tallied altogether collectively over a thousand hours of spacewalks as part of station assembly. Mike and I have the honor here to share this last spacewalk and of course, with all the folks working on the ground, the thousands of people who helped build this, working in the shuttle and the station programs.

“We’re floating here on the shoulders of giants. This space station is a pinnacle of human achievement and international cooperation — 12 years of building and 15 countries. And now it’s the brightest star in the sky and hopefully the doorstep to our future. So congratulations everybody on assembly complete,” said Chamitoff.

A bright sun, a portion of the International Space Station and Earth's horizon
This image was photographed by a spacewalker, using a fish-eye lens attached to an electronic still camera, during the STS-134 mission's fourth EVA on May 27, 2011

From inside the Quest airlock, Mike Fincke took his turn and added these comments, “I wanted to say congratulations to the shuttle program for all the wonderful successes we’ve had over the past 30-something years. It’s a privilege that Endeavour’s hosting the last spacewalk by a space shuttle crew. So congratulations to the EVA development teams. We’ve come a long way. From me and Greg and the rest of the crew, congratulations.”

Today, Fincke also claimed the record for most time in space by a US astronaut, surpassing Peggy Whitson’s record of 377 days in space.

Astronaut Greg Chamitoff outside ISS during 4th EVA of STS-134. A fish-eye lens attached to an electronic still camera was used to capture this image of NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff during the mission's fourth extravehicular activity (EVA). Astronaut Michael Fincke is visible in the reflections of Chamitoff's helmet visor. Credit: NASA
Soyuz capsule docked at the ISS, twitpic from Astronaut Mike Fincke
Our ride home 4 months from now Px from @AstroIronMike on today's spacewalk #NASA #ISS #FromSpace, tweets ISS Astronaut Ron Garan

See more images at NASA’s Human Spaceflight webpage gallery, and NASA’s Image of the Day gallery.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Awesome Hi Def Launch Videos from Endeavour
Spectacular Soyuz Photo Gallery shows Unprecedented View Of Shuttle Docked at Station
Ultimate ISS + Shuttle + Earth Photo Op Coming on May 23 from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli
Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Awesome Hi Def Launch Videos from Endeavour

As the shuttle era frenetically draws to a close, the launch views of the thunderous climb to orbit captured by NASA just get ever more stunning and vividly illustrate what it’s like to liftoff to space.

Check out this awesome collection of high definition videos of Endeavour’s final blast off as recorded by cameras mounted on each of the twin solid rocket boosters (SRB’s) from multiple viewpoints.

The STS-134 mission lifted off on May 16 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The cameras show the launch from numerous spectacular angles and vantage points, pointed down to Earth and up to space, from alongside the belly of the orbiter and along the sides of the SRB’s.

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The videos show all the phases of the SRB in flight – including separation, parachute deployment and all the way to the dramatic splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean with rapidly changing backgrounds of the launch pad, Earth and Space.

The STS-134 mission is the 25th and final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour, NASA youngest orbiter.

Endeavour’s six man crew is led by Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. She was shot at point blank range and critically wounded during a routine congressional meet and greet with her constituents in January 2011.

Endeavour is set to land back at KSC on June 1 at 2:32 a.m. EDT after a 16 day mission to the International Space Station. The crew carried up the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and attached this wor;ld class science instrument to the truss of the ISS. The AMS is a particle physics detector searching for antimatter, dark energy and dark matter. The goal is to elucidate the birth and evolution of the Universe.

Side view of shuttle Endeavour stack and access walkways.
NASA released stunning launch videos taken from cameras mounted on multiple spots around the twin Solid Rocket boosters shown here, including dramatic views with the orbiter belly rocketing to space. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Spectacular Soyuz Photo Gallery shows Unprecedented View Of Shuttle Docked at Station
Ultimate ISS + Shuttle + Earth Photo Op Coming on May 23 from Soyuz and Paolo Nespoli
Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Endeavour Blasts Off on Her 25th and Final Mission

[/caption]KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The second time was a charm for Space Shuttle Endeavour as she blasted off this morning (May 16) from Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center on her historic final mission under overcast skies after a two week delay caused by a heater malfunction in the orbiters critical hydraulic fuel lines.

The threatening clouds moved in over the pad in the last 30 minutes of the countdown and nearly derailed the launch. Forecasters had predicted a 70 chance of favorable conditions.

The Universe Today team of Ken Kremer and Alan Walters witnessed Endeavour’s exciting launch from the press site next to the world famous countdown clock. Check out our photo album here.

Space Shuttle Endeavour launches from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011. View from the countdown clock at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Endeavour will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. The AMS will search for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter
to determine the birth of the Universe. Credit: Ken Kremer -www.kenkremer.com

Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates lifted off at 8:56 a.m. EDT Monday on the STS-134 mission which will deliver a state of the art particle physics detector to the International Space Station.

The $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) could potentially revolutionize our understanding of how the Universe was born and evolved over time. The AMS is a world class science instrument sponsored by the United States and 15 countries around the globe. Nobel Prize Winner Samuel Ting of MIT leads the international science project.

Endeavour’s three main engines roared to life six seconds before the twin Solid Rocket Boosters were ignited and pushed the shuttle off the pad atop a tremendous roar and brilliant flames shooting from Endeavour’s tail.

The blastoff was flawless and majestic. Endeavour disappeared into the clouds at about T plus 25 seconds

Liftoff of Endeavour on May, 16, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center with the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer destined for the International Space Station. Credit: Alan Walters – awaltersphoto.com

Nearly half a million people flocked to the Florida Space Coast to be a part of history and witness the launch of Shuttle Endeavour on her 25th and final mission to space. Many hotels were sold out for the night.

Numerous folks staked out their claim to a prime view location along area waterways and beaches by camping out for the night or by arriving many hours early to avoid the crush and clogged local roadways.

Kelly’s crewmates are Pilot Greg H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency. This is the first shuttle flight for Fincke and Vittori.

“This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration,” Commander Mark Kelly said shortly before liftoff. “It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop. To all the millions watching today including our spouses, children, family and friends, we thank you for your support.”

Both Finke and Vittori flew to space atop Russian rockets on their prior spaceflights. Vittori will be the last international astronaut to fly aboard a shuttle.

Endeavour is slated for a 16 day mission to the International Space Station which will include the final four spacewalks for the space shuttle program.

The STS-134 mission is the penultimate flight of the shuttle program and the 25th and final one for shuttle Endeavour, NASA’s youngest Orbiter.

Space Shuttle Endeavour blasts off on her 25th and final mission from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011 at 8:56 a.m. View from the world famous countdown clock at T Plus 5 Seconds at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

If you watched Endeavour’s May 16 blastoff, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Last Liftoff of Endeavour on May 16, 2011 from the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Alan Walters – awaltersphoto.com
Endeavour disappeared into the clouds at about T plus 25 seconds after May 16 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer
Endeavour disappeared into the clouds at about T plus 25 seconds after May 16 launch. Credit: Ken Kremer

Endeavour Unveiled for Historic Final Blastoff

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – A humongous crowd numbering perhaps half a million excited people is expected to witness the historic final blast off of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Clocks are ticking down as the countdown enters the final phase before Monday morning’s liftoff (May 16) scheduled for 8:56 a.m. EDT from Pad 39 A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

Endeavour was unveiled for blastoff earlier today as a protective cocoon like structure was pulled away from the shuttle stack. The Rotating Service Structure (RSS) was retracted from around the orbiter starting at 11:45 a.m. over about 45 minutes and under a gorgeous blue sky. See my photo album

Space Shuttle Endeavour awaits launch from Pad 39 A on May 16, 2011. Endeavour will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. The AMS will search for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter to determine the birth of the Universe. Credit: Ken Kremer

In a lucky break, expected thunderstorms that could have delayed the retraction and launch preparations actually passed through the area overnight, much earlier than expected.

Shuttle managers will gather at 11 p.m. tonight for a critical meeting and decision to give the “Go-No Go” directive to load the External Fuel Tank with supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel that powers the shuttle main engines for the eight and one half minute climb to orbit. The tanking process is scheduled to begin at 11:36 p.m.

There are no technical issues at this time that would prevent a launch. The weather outlook remains at “70 Percent GO”.

The goal of Endeavour and her all veteran six man crew is to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space Station. The $2 Billion AMS is a state of the art particle physics detector that will search for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter and seek to determine how the Universe was born and evolved.

The 134 mission is set to last 16 days and will feature the final 4 spacewalks of the space shuttle program.

Close up of Endeavour at Pad 39A shows astronaut walkway to the White Room and crew cabin.
Credit: Ken Kremer

The crew will wake up at 12 a.m. Monday. They depart for the launch pad shortly after 5 a.m.

Launch coverage begins on NASA TV tonight at 11:30 P.M. shortly before fueling commences:

www.nasa.gov/ntv

If you watch Endeavour’s launch, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.
Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

Close up of aft fuselage of Endeavour at Pad 39A. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer and Space Shuttle Endeavour at Launch Pad 39 A at the Kennedy Space Center.
Credit: Ken Kremer

Looking to the Heavens with Endeavour; Launch Pad Photo Special

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Space Shuttle Endeavour is poised for launch as the countdown clock ticks down to a liftoff from Pad 39 A on Monday morning, May 16 at 8:56 a.m. EDT. The shuttle Mission Management Team (MMT) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) met today (May 14) and gave the green light to continue launch preparations for the STS-134 mission, which is the final flight of shuttle Endeavour.

The weather forecast remains at a 70 percent favorable chance of acceptable conditions on Monday, according to Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters. The weather outlook drops to only 20 percent favorable on Tuesday in case of a one day delay. The weather rebounds to 80 percent favorable if the launch is postponed by 48 hours.

Side view of shutte Endeavour stack and access walkways. Astronaut walkway to White Room at top center. Credit: Ken Kremer

At a briefing for reporters at KSC today, shuttle launch managers were upbeat about preparations for the launch.

“We had a really good meeting today, unanimous consent from the Mission Management Team to press on with the launch countdown,” said Mike Moses, MMT chairman and manager of shuttle integration at KSC. “Everything’s in really great shape, really no issues at all.”

Moses added that no problems are expected with the heaters in the auxiliary power units (APU’s) that caused the launch scrub two weeks ago on April 29.

To the heavens with Endeavour. Credit: Ken Kremer

Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach said, “The countdown is going extremely well and the team is ready to go. Tanking of the External Tank begins just prior to midnight. We are not working any issue at this time.”

Fueling of the External Tank with supercold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen starts at 11.36 p.m. Sunday night.

Leinbach said that local officials are expecting a crowd of about half a million people to descend on the Florida Space Coast area for the launch.

“You’ll recall for the first launch attempt on that Friday afternoon, the estimate was between 500,000 and 750,000,” he said. “So they’re not quite expecting that big surge, but it’ll still be a heck of a traffic jam after launch.”

Endeavour and her six man crew will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – a particle physics detector searching for dark matter, dark energy and antimatter – to the International Space Station during a 16 day mission that will include 4 spacewalks.

After Endeavour was rolled out to the pad, I had an awesome opportunity to photograph Endeavour at the pad from stunning vantage points all around the launch pad from top to bottom.

Herein is part 2 of my photo album focusing on my visit to the base of the shuttle stack on the mobile launch platform while looking to the heavens and standing directly beneath the External Tank and in between the Twin Solid Rocket Boosters. Part 1 of my photo album concentrated on the view from the upper levels and our visit to the White Room – where the astronauts board the shuttle orbiter to take their seats for the adventure of a lifetime.

Looking to the heavens from directly beneath Endeavour’s tail. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle Endeavour awaits launch from Pad 39 A
Endeavour will deliver the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station which seeks to unveil the Unknown and uncover the birth of the Universe. Credit: Ken Kremer
View from directly below the External Tank and shuttle body flap between twin SRB’s. Credit: Ken Kremer
Space Shuttle Endeavour atop Launch Pad 39 A is slated for liftoff on May 16. Endeavour and her six man crew will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station. Credit: Ken Kremer
Shuttle belly with attach points to External Tank connected to loaded Solid Rocket Boosters
on top of pad 39 A. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer standing beside the Solid Rocket Booster and External Tank and on top of Launch Pad 39 A with Space Shuttle Endeavour. Credit: Ken Kremer

If you watch Endeavour’s launch, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

NPR Radio interview including Ken here:
Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week

Endeavour Astronauts Arrive at Cape for May 16 Launch

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – The all veteran crew for the last launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour flew back to Florida today for their second try to lift off into space on the STS-134 mission to the International Space Station. This follows the launch scrub called by Shuttle launch managers on April 29 caused by a malfunction of critical heaters inside one of the orbiters three auxiliary power units (APU’s) which power the ships hydraulics.

The weather forecast for Monday morning launch is currently “70% GO” and liftoff is targeted for 8:56 a.m. EDT on Monday, May 16. Stormy weather and rain is expected to sweep across central Florida over the weekend and clear out in time for the launch. But Sunday’s rain could potentially delay the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure – which protects the shuttle from bad weather – for a short time.

Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly and his five crewmates arrived at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center early this morning (May 12) at 9 a.m. aboard the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) after flying in from the astronauts training base at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Mark Kelly, Space Shuttle Commander
for the STS-134 mission speaks ro reports after crew arrives at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer

“It’s great to be back,” said Kelly to the large crowd of reporters, including me, gathered to greet the crew. “We really appreciate all the hard work by the team that’s worked over the last couple of weeks to get shuttle Endeavour ready. We are really excited to be here, excited to launch, hopefully on Monday if the weather holds.

Kelly is joined on the crew by pilot Greg H. “Box” Johnson and Mission Specialists Mike Fincke, Andrew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and Roberto Vittori. Vittori is a European Space Agency astronaut and spoke first in his native Italian language and then in English.

“Box” celebrated his 49th birthday today. “I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend my birthday then to come here with my crew a get ready to fly Endeavour next week.”

He also thanked the teams for resolving the APU issues. ”Hats off to Dana Hutcherson and her team for preparing Endeavour for this flow and finally a special thanks to the APU team for all the hard work you’ve done getting us to this point. Kudos for solving it and getting us back on track.”

Kelly and Johnson will fly practice landings in the STA in the remaining days prior to Monday’s launch. The STA is a modified Gulfstream II jet which handles like a space shuttle.

Mission Specialist Mike Finke whipped out a camera and photographed the gaggle of media as we were photographing them – a rare and thrilling experience for all of us. Finke tweeted the photo of us a short time later – and is included here.

STS-134 Astronaut Mike Finke snapped this photo of the media gaggle that greeted the crew on their arrival at the Shuttle Landing Facility in Florida. Finke tweeted the photo as “AstroIronMike” and wrote - Astronaut view of our press conference. Ken is 4th from left and left of NASA logo. Credit: NASA/Mike Finke

Technicians at the Kennedy Space Center have been working around the clock since April 29 to determine the cause of the heater failure and fix the problems. The malfunction was traced to a switch box located in the aft section of the shuttle. Shuttle workers swaped out the ALCA -2 load control assembly box. Then they retested the new unit and qualified it for flight.

STS-134 Astronaut Mike Finke (2nd from right) photographs the media
as we photograph the crew upon their arrival in Florida on May 12. See Finke’s twitpic above.
Credit: Ken Kremer

Humongous crowds are again expected to travel to prime viewing locations around the Kennedy Space Center and pack the local hotels, roadways and beaches. Flocks of tourists are already arriving in anticipation on Monday’s launch. About 750,00 folks had swarmed to Florida for the April 29 launch attempt.

STS-134 is the penultimate mission in the Space Shuttle Program. The last shuttle flight by Atlantis is expected to occur in early July, but a firm launch date has not yet been set.

Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach greets the STS-134 crew upon arrival at KSC
as they depart the Shuttle Training Aircraft. Credit: Ken Kremer

If you do attend Endeavour’s launch, send me your launch and crowd photos to post in an STS-134 launch gallery here at Universe Today.

Read my related stories about the STS-134 mission here:
NASA Sets May 16 for Last Launch of Endeavour; Atlantis Slips to July
Endeavour’s Final Launch further delayed another Week or more
On the Cusp of Endeavour’s Final Flight
Brush Fires Erupt at Kennedy Space Center during Endeavour’s Last Countdown
Commander Mark Kelly and STS-134 Crew Arrive at Kennedy for Endeavour’s Final Flight
President Obama to Attend Endeavour’s Last Launch on April 29
Shuttle Endeavour Photo Special: On Top of Pad 39A for Final Flight
Endeavour Mated to Rockets for Last Flight Photo Album
Endeavour Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building for Final Flight

NPR Radio interview including Ken here:
Shuttle Fixes Will Take At Least One Week