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Endeavour space shuttle launches; Gabrielle Giffords calls launch ‘good stuff’

The space shuttle Endeavour launched from Cape Canaveral on Monday, successfully starting NASA’s second-to-last planned shuttle mission. As Manuel Roig-Franzia reported:

• Space shuttle Endeavour vaulted elegantly into the sky Monday, a spectacle of fire and power lent a grace note by the wounded congresswoman watching from below.

The appearance here of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) added a new chapter to a remarkable saga of survival and recovery, five months after she was shot in the head in an attack in Tucson that left six others dead.

Endeavour, which was originally scheduled to launch in November, blasted off 1 ½ weeks after its highly anticipated April 29 launch was scrubbed because of problems with the ship’s hydraulic system.

The scrub — just moments before astronauts were to board the shuttle — came as Giffords looked on. President Obama, with his wife and daughters, had also flown in for the launch. This time, the president is headed to Tennessee to survey flood damage and speak at a high school graduation.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was on hand to observe her husband Mark Kelly, Endeavour’s commander as he and his crew departed. As AP explained:

• Sitting in a wheelchair atop NASA’s launch control center with other astronaut families, wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords watched her husband launch into space Monday aboard space shuttle Endeavour. And she smiled.

Inside Endeavour somewhere is a handwritten personal note she wrote the shuttle commander, her husband Mark Kelly.

The handful of shuttle watchers, including Giffords’ nurse, were mostly quiet as Endeavour took flight. It’s hard to hear amid the roar of the spacecraft.

Then Giffords said, “Good stuff, good stuff,” according to the congresswoman’s aide.

Kelly took her wedding ring into space, which he has done on past flights. But this time she wanted something back: his ring to stay on Earth. She had it around her neck on a silver chain from a funky Arizona jewelry store that included a heart and an Arizona map.

“Relief was her biggest feeling,” chief of staff Pia Carusone said in a post-launch press conference. “She was very proud. She’s always proud of Mark.

Endeavour’s launch did not receive the large crowds its first attempted launch date had drawn, the most notable absence being that of President Obama and his daughters. As AP reported:

• Manny Kariotakis got goosebumps watching the last launch of Endeavour, even though the space shuttle disappeared Monday behind clouds seconds after blasting off from the pad 10 miles away.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators joined Kariotakis in that history, witnessing Endeavour’s last launch and the second-to-last mission before the space shuttle program ends. But it was a smaller turnout than the crowds that viewed the last shuttle launch in February and Endeavor’s failed launch attempt in April.

Blame the early morning hours.

Endeavour blasted off at 8:56 a.m. February’s launch and last month’s attempt were in the afternoon.

“With the launch being so early, it’s going to deter people from coming here,” said Tom Summers, 48, who hawked shuttle T-shirts, caps, mugs and medals in front of a trailer in the dark, early hours of Monday.

Projections had put Monday’s crowd at 500,000, more than the number that saw shuttle Discovery’s final hurrah in February. Titusville Assistant Police Chief John Lau guessed the crowd at between 350,000 and 400,000.

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