Shuttle Astronauts Land at KSC for Launch Rehearsal

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The six astronauts slated to ride Space Shuttle Endeavour on its last journey to space arrived at NASA’s Florida spaceport for a launch dress rehearsal March 29.

The Endeavour astronauts landed their T-38 jets in waves between 5:07 p.m. and 5:24 p.m. EDT on a runway at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral. They arrived earlier than planned from their home base near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The crew, led by veteran shuttle commander Mark Kelly — husband of wounded Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — is scheduled to launch April 19 for a two-week trip to the international space station. Liftoff is set for 7:48 p.m. EDT.

“We like coming in to see the space shuttle,” Kelly said in a televised statement after his crew joined him on the tarmac. “It’s always exciting, especially when you’re three weeks away from launch.”

The astronauts were scheduled to stay in Florida through April 1 to perform a launch countdown rehearsal called the Terminal Countdown Demonstration — a traditional practice session before every shuttle flight — as well as other training activities. Kelly and Endeavour’s pilot, Greg H. Johnson, will also practice landing the shuttle by flying a modified Gulfstream jet that NASA calls the shuttle training aircraft.

On its STS-134 mission, Endeavour will deliver a $1.5 billion astrophysics experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the space station, along with a load of spare supplies. The crew plans four busy spacewalks to upgrade the station during the mission. Kelly has said he hopes his wife will be well enough to attend his launch in person from Florida. Giffords is recovering in Houston after being shot in January while speaking to constituents outside a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store. Kelly has said she is making remarkable progress in recovery and wants to attend the April launch.

After this mission, NASA has only one more space shuttle flight planned — the June STS-135 mission of the shuttle Atlantis. The space shuttle orbiters are to be retired to museums after their final flights.