The wife of shuttle pilot Mark Kelly, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, has been cleared to attend the launch of her husband's final mission to space aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, another milestone in the congresswoman's remarkable recovery after she was shot in an assassination attempt in January. The New York Times reported Giffords' parents and few aides might also attend as well.
"We routinely allow patients outside visits as part of their rehabilitation," Dr. Gerard Francisco, one of Giffords' doctors, said in a statement. "Her attending the launch is a goal that we were working toward, and we have achieved that end. She has made remarkable progress in her rehabilitation, and we saw no reason why she could not travel safely to Florida."
NASA has confirmed that space shuttle Endeavour's last flight will take place on April 29. The shuttle's final mission is important because it will bring with it the AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer). This piece of equipment is amongst the final components needed to complete the assembly of the ISS (International Space Station). After Endeavour's final trip, it is to be retired for permanent display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles.
AMS, a particle physics detector, is designed to search for various types of unusual matter by measuring cosmic rays. Its experiments are designed to help researchers study the formation of the universe and search for evidence of dark matter, strange matter and antimatter. Endeavour also will fly the Expedite the Processing of Experiment to Space Station (Express) Logistics Carrier 3 (ELC-3), a platform that carries spare parts that will sustain space station operations once the shuttles are retired from service.
The mission will feature four spacewalks to do maintenance work and install new components. These are the last scheduled spacewalks by shuttle crew members. Shuttle mission STS-134 is the final flight for Endeavour and the second-to-last flight for the space shuttle program.
Mission STS-134 takes off from the Kennedy Space Center on April 29 at 3:47 p.m. EST, a period where the ISS continually passes over North American skies. The STS-134 crew members include Commander Kelly, Pilot Gregory H. Johnson and Mission Specialists Michael Fincke, Greg Chamitoff, Andrew Feustel and European Space Agency astronaut Roberto Vittori. The 14-day mission will be the 36th shuttle mission to the ISS.
NASA said backyard astronomers would be able to see the ISS with their telescopes, and some might even be able to observe the Endeavor shuttle as it approaches and docks with the Station. Buy-Telescope.com owner Marius McLaughlin said one reason why reflector telescopes are ideal for observing the International Space Station is because they perform well in light-polluted areas. "Viewing the Space Station with a telescope can be difficult but many amateurs do it on a regular basis," McLaughlin said. "Some even take impressive photos of it with their telescopes and few even manage to photograph the space shuttles that travel to it."