Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was “elated” and ex-astronaut Mark Kelly said “That’s my spaceship” as the space shuttle Endeavour flew over Tucson in the couple’s honor Thursday.
The retired shuttle did a loop around the city atop a modified jumbo jet before continuing its trek west to retirement in a Los Angeles museum.
Giffords and Kelly, who went into space twice on Endeavour, viewed the flyover from the roof of a University of Arizona parking garage. A crowd watched from a nearby campus mall.
Many cheered as the shuttle sailed across the blue sky, several hours after it took off from a Houston airport.
“It’s beautiful,” exclaimed Robert Thomas, a hospital X-ray technician, as his wife, Marsha Colbert, stood on a bench to take photos of the shuttle.
“That’s the last time it’s ever going to fly,” Thomas added.
Verne Smith was among a group of astronomers from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory who watched the flyover at the mall.
“It’s time has sort of passed,” Smith said of Endeavor. “It pushed the limits of what could be done at the time so it was very expensive.”
The shuttle departed from its Cape Canaveral, Fla., home base early Wednesday. It then soared over NASA centers in Mississippi and Louisiana before making a layover in Houston, home of Mission Control.
Kelly, Endeavour’s last commander, requested that the shuttle fly over Tucson to honor his wife, who is recovering after being wounded in last year’s shooting rampage in Tucson. A gunman opened fire Jan. 8, 2011, killing six people and wounding Giffords and 12 others.
Kelly and Giffords now live in Tucson, where Giffords is recovering.
Kelly said the flyover recalled the memory of landing Endeavour, which he said was challenging because the shuttle doesn’t use its engines as it returns to Earth.
“Landing a shuttle is not easy,” he told reporters after the flyover. “It doesn’t glide very well.”
Giffords didn’t attend the news conference. But her former aide C.J. Karamargin said Giffords was elated and started “hooting and hollering” as soon as she spotted Endeavour.
Kelly also flew twice on Discovery, but he said Endeavour was his favorite.
“I really am fond of Endeavour,” he said. “It was built after the Challenger accident, mostly out of spare parts. So it’s great to see it in the air.”
Kelly said having the shuttle fly over Tucson was symbolic because of the University of Arizona’s involvement in various space projects.
“It certainly made sense that the space shuttle flew over the university,” he said.