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Space shuttle Endeavour is finally on its way. Endeavour blasted off on the next-to-last shuttle flight Monday morning under the command of Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The wounded congresswoman watched the launch in private from Kennedy Space Center.
As many as 45,000 guests jammed NASA's launch site. The crowd outside the gates was estimated to be in the tens of thousands, if not more.
It was the second launch attempt. Late last month, an electrical problem halted the countdown.
Endeavour and its six astronauts will arrive at the International Space Station on Wednesday. They are delivering a $2 billion particle physics experiment. The mission will last 16 days.
The mood was upbeat this time around. An electrical problem halted the countdown on April 29; NASA said that trouble is behind.
"Took my last shower for a few weeks," reported astronaut Mike Fincke in a tweet. "The flight docs gave a good look-over. My only issue: too much boyish enthusiasm. (no known cure)."
Added pilot Gregory Johnson in his own Twitter update: "I am really excited and charged up for this mission! Slept great."
NASA finished fueling space shuttle Endeavour in the pre-dawn hours Monday. Meteorologists were optimistic, sticking to their original 70 percent odds of good flying weather.
NASA anticipated a launch day crowd in the hundreds of thousands. Law enforcement agencies told NASA to expect up to 500,000 spectators to jam area roads and towns.
Even more people were expected for the first launch attempt, on a convenient Friday afternoon. President Obama and his family even showed up, but had to settle for a tour and a meet-and-greet with the astronauts as well as Giffords.
NASA spent the past two weeks replacing a switch box with a blown fuse as well as a suspect thermostat, and installing new wiring.
Giffords flew in Sunday from Houston, where she's undergoing rehab for a gunshot wound to the head. Her recovery has been so remarkable that doctors approved both trips to Cape Canaveral.
She was shot at a political event in Tucson, Ariz., her hometown., and nearly died.
By Sunday night, recreational vehicles and cars already were lined up along the Banana and Indian rivers. And signs outside area businesses cheered Endeavour on with messages of "godspeed" and "go."
Endeavour is the baby of NASA's shuttle fleet. It was built to replace the Challenger, lost in a 1986 launch accident. Endeavour first flew in 1992 - it ended its first mission 19 years ago Monday.
NASA is retiring its three remaining space shuttles after 30 years to concentrate on interplanetary travel. The space agency wants to hand over the business of getting crews and cargo to the space station, to private companies. At least one company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said it can get astronauts to the space station within three years of getting NASA approval.
One final mission remains, by Atlantis in July.
This program aired on May 16, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.
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