Endeavour launched its 25th and final flight Monday morning after two weeks of delays slowed down the NASA shuttle. There is one other separate shuttle flight expected before NASA shuts down its 30-year-old shuttle program and begins something new.
The launch was bittersweet for the mission's commander, Mark Kelly, who had to leave wife Gabrielle Giffords, who is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head during a Jan. 8 shooting that killed six in Tucson, Ariz. While Kelly and Giffords said their goodbyes on Sunday, Giffords amazingly watched the launch from a wheelchair with a crowd estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
"Good stuff, good stuff," the Associated Press quoted Giffords saying as Endeavour soared upward (as told by her chief of staff).
Despite an electrical delay that kept the shuttle on the ground since the original April 29 launch date, Monday's countdown was close to perfect, and lifted off without any issues.
Just before launching, Kelly thanked everyone who put hands "on this incredible ship."
“It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore. We must not stop,” he said.
The 47-year-old Navy captain almost didn't make the final Endeavour flight because of his wife's gunshot wound, but announced he would fly a month after the incident. Giffords has made solid improvements and was moved from the hospital in her hometown of Tucson to Houston, where Kelly lives and performs astronaut training.
“Everybody felt that this was the right thing for me to do,” he said when first making the announcement he would fly. He said his wife "is a big supporter of my career, a big supporter of NASA."
(Photos: AP, BBC)