NASA delays Endeavour’s final flight until end of April

Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, will command Endeavour. Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, will command Endeavour. (Michael R. Brown/ Florida Today/ AP)
Associated Press / April 5, 2011

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is delaying its next space shuttle flight — the last voyage of Endeavour, with Representative Gabrielle Giffords’s astronaut husband in charge.

The flight was postponed because the original April 19 date conflicts with Russia’s plans to send a cargo ship to the International Space Station.

Endeavour is now scheduled to blast off April 29 with Mark Kelly leading the mission. It will be Endeavour’s last flight and the next-to-last shuttle mission. Shuttle Atlantis will close out the 30-year shuttle program this summer.

NASA announced the postponement yesterday, after conferring over the weekend with the Russian Space Agency and other space station partners.

An unmanned Russian cargo ship is set to blast off at the end of April. NASA did not want the craft docking at the space station while Endeavour was still there. Now, the cargo ship will arrive first.

A NASA spokesman, Allard Beutel, said the Russians were reluctant to postpone the supply run because of a time-sensitive biological experiment aboard the craft.

Kelly and five crewmates will deliver a $2 billion physics experiment to the space station, as well as crucial spare parts to keep the orbiting outpost running for another decade.

Kelly returned to training in February after taking time off to be with his wife, who was shot in Arizona earlier this year.

In Kazakhstan, meanwhile, a US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off today before dawn, riding into orbit on a Soyuz craft emblazoned with the portrait of the first man in space in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight. They will join three astronauts already in orbit.