Shuttle Endeavour to honor Gabrielle Giffords with Tucson flyover
The retired orbiter is scheduled to fly over Tucson to honor former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was gravely injured in a 2011 shooting at an event in her district that killed six others. Giffords' husband is retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who commanded Endeavour's final mission last year.
Kelly made the request Wednesday, NASA confirmed. The couple recently moved back to Tucson from Houston, where Giffords received specialized rehabilitation.
"The flyover affords NASA, and the nation, an opportunity to help recognize the legacy of Mark’s wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a long-time advocate and champion for American human spaceflight," NASA said in a statement.
The extra flyover didn't add costs to the overall trip, the agency added.
Piggybacked atop a modified Boeing 747, the shuttle departed Houston at dawn Thursday. It will dip low over the state Capitol in Austin before stopping to refuel at El Paso's Biggs Army Airfield about 7:30 a.m. PST.
After the 90-minute stop, Endeavour will head for Tucson on its way to Edwards Air Force Base, where it is expected to touch down about 12:30 p.m. following a roughly 30-minute flyover.
The shuttle will depart the Mojave Desert base at dawn Friday and begin a final aerial tour of the Golden State, a trip that includes flyovers of Sacramento, San Francisco and Southern California. It is scheduled to enter Los Angeles airspace about 10:30 a.m. and land at Los Angeles International Airport about an hour later.
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— Kate Mather
Photo: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press