(TUCSON, Ariz.) — The space shuttle Endeavour arrived in California Thursday after taking a detour over Tucson as former astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, watched from a rooftop at the University of Arizona.
Kelly, Endeavour’s last commander, asked Wednesday that Endeavour make a detour and fly over Tucson, so that Giffords could see it one last time.
The last-minute suggestion was a bit of a surprise to NASA, but it put out a statement saying it would honor Kelly’s request.
“As part of the delivery of Endeavour to Los Angeles, Endeavour will be flown over the city of Tucson,” said the agency. “NASA decided to honor that request to pay our respects to a long-time agency supporter in former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Kelly, who commanded Endeavour’s final mission, STS-134. The flight over Tucson will add no additional time or cost to the delivery of Endeavour.”
Kelly was training for the flight in January 2011 when Giffords was wounded in an assassination attempt in Tucson, where she was meeting with people from her district. After weeks of watching to see how she was recovering, Kelly decided to go ahead with the flight. It was bittersweet, but he had been training for two years with his crew, and said he had had faith in the medical team treating his wife.
This week Endeavour, now retired like the other space shuttles, flew a victory lap across the South, taking off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, dropping from 14,000 feet to 1,500 to circle historic locations in space shuttle history.
On Wednesday, the orbiter, on top of its 747 carrier plane, circled over Houston and the Johnson Space Center. Endeavour then headed to El Paso Thursday, where it refueled and went on to Edwards Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles.
On Friday it will fly to Los Angeles International Airport, and then it will be prepped for transport through city streets to its final home — as a permanent display at the California Science Center.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Farida Fawzy and Jareen Imam, CNN
Tahman Bradley, WGN
Sophie Tatum, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN