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April 29th, 2011
12:15 PM ET

Endeavour: What's in a name?

AFP/Getty Images

Update: Launch scrubbed over problems with Auxiliary Power Unit 1 heaters. Next earliest attempt is Sunday.

As I watch all the fuss over the royal wedding, I can't help but think about the day's other big event... and equally moving love story.

Space shuttle Endeavour is set to launch on its final flight roughly 7 and a half hours after Prince William and Kate Middleton –er, I mean the new Duchess of Cambridge– kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Fitting that on a day dominated by the British monarchy, NASA would launch its most British shuttle. Of course I only refer to the name. Ever wonder why the U.S. space agency would use a UK spelling for Endeavour?

Blame the kids...

Back in 1988, NASA held a competition for students to name its newest orbiter. The big rule: it had to be the name of an exploratory or research sea vessel. It also had to be easy to pronounce.

That may be the reason Mrs. Wollner's fifth grade class did not see our entry selected. I'm pretty sure we suggested "Starella." OK, it was totally lame. The overwhelming entry, one-third of them, were "Endeavour." It was a ship in the British Royal Navy... the reason its name includes that pesky "u."

This will be Endeavour's 25th and final liftoff. Astronaut Mark Kelly will command the flight. He was supposed to make history by joining his identical twin brother Scott in space. (That never happened. Scott returned to earth last month.)

AFP/Getty Images

Mark Kelly is more often associated with another relationship in his life. His wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, was the target of an assassination attempt in January. She was almost killed by a bullet to the head.

Their love has been on display ever since that tragic moment. We watched as Kelly spoke about the 20 "awful minutes" when he thought Giffords had died. One of the first images released from the hospital showed Kelly sitting by her bedside, holding her hand.

Doctors say Giffords has made a remarkable recovery. They cleared her to travel and watch her husband's launch in Florida. 

No doubt it will be an extra special milestone for both of them.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Space
soundoff (One Response)
  1. Tito Ngoma

    What i don't understand is why is this launch referred to as 'THE LAST'?

    May 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Reply

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