April 29th, 2011
03:26 PM ET
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) – As many as 700,000 people, including the first family, were hoping to watch space shuttle Endeavour lift off at 3:47 p.m. for its final space flight. Any excitement was mixed with disappointment when news spread that the launch had been postponed.
President Obama was wrapping up his visit in Alabama, surveying tornado damage, when NASA tweeted that the launch was scrubbed “because of an issue with Auxiliary Power Unit 1 heaters.”
It was not until Obama got on Air Force One that the press found out the president and his family would still visit Kennedy Space Center despite the scrubbed launch.
At the moment it is unclear whether the president and family will attend the rescheduled launch, which is expected to take place in 72 hours.
The first family arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and rode on Marine One to the Kennedy Space Center. They toured the Orbiter Processing Facility, where the space shuttle Atlantis is being prepared for its final launch in June, and the Launch Control Center.
President Obama was greeted by shuttle commander Mark Kelly whose wife, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, survived an assassination attempt in January and was also in town for the launch. "I bet you were hoping to see a rocket launch today," Kelly said to Obama, who replied, "We were hoping to see you." Kelly updated the president and first lady on Giffords' condition and then they visited with her for about 1o minutes, before meeting in another room with all six Endeavour astronauts.
To date, only one president has attended a shuttle launch. President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton witnessed the Discovery shuttle takeoff in October 1998.
President Obama last visited the Kennedy Space Center in April 2010, where he outlined what the White House called a “bold strategy for human spaceflight,” which includes relying more on the private sector than government funding. The administration has been criticized for canceling NASA’s Constellation human spaceflight program.
“Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space than I am," said Obama in April 2010. “But we’ve got to do it in a smart way, and we can’t just keep on doing the same old things that we’ve been doing and thinking that somehow is going to get us to where we want to go.”
When Endeavour completes its final mission, according to NASA, the shuttle will have traveled more than 100 million miles during 25 flights and spent more than 294 days in space.
Commander Kelly will oversee the two-week mission, during which the crew is expected to make four spacewalks and deliver supplies, spare parts and a $2 billion particle physics detector to the International Space Station.