The space shuttle Endeavour lifted off on Monday for its final mission, watched by Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head earlier this year, whose husband is commanding the mission.
Tens of thousands of people crowded in and around the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida for the launch of the shuttle’s 16-day voyage to deliver $2-billion worth of astrophysics equipment to the International Space Station, designed to search space for antimatter. Nasa is planning just one more flight, of the Atlantis in July, before the 30-year shuttle programme is shut down.
Nasa described the presence of Giffords to watch her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, command the flight as “inspiring”. The congresswoman travelled from a hospital in Houston, Texas, where she has been making what her doctors have called a “miraculous recovery” after being shot in the head in January during an assassination attempt by a gunman who killed six other people.
Shortly before lift-off, Kelly described Endeavour as “this incredible ship”. He then appealed for the exploration of space to continue in spite of the end of the space shuttle programme.
Reaching for the stars
“As Americans, we endeavour to build a better life than the generation before and endeavour to be a united nation. In those efforts we are often tested,” he said. “This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration. It is in the DNA of our country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop.”
Minutes after the launch, Giffords, who was kept away from the cameras, sent a tweet: “God Speed — we’ll see you in about two weeks.”
Barack Obama was not present — he and his and his family had attended an attempt to launch Endeavour nearly three weeks ago that was called off due to an electrical fault.
Endeavour was built to replace another shuttle, Challenger, which blew up shortly after a launch in 1986 killing seven astronauts. Nasa says that since Endeavour‘s launch in 1992 it has travelled more than 160-million kilometres over 25 flights. The six astronauts on the shuttle marked the final flight of the Endeavour by posing for a re-enactment of the poster promoting the most recent Star Trek film. – guardian.co.uk