Backup Commander For STS-134 And Launch Dates For Next Two Shuttle Missions Announced

A backup commander for current STS-134 commander Mark Kelly, center, has been announced. Image Credit:

In the wake of the tragedy that took place last week in Tucson, Arizona, NASA has announced that astronaut Rick Sturckow will serve as backup commander for the STS-134 mission on the shuttle – Endeavour. This was decided so that the remainder of the crew could move forward with training during the absence of current STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly.

Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was wounded in a shooting on Jan. 8, at an outdoor event at a Safeway supermarket, dubbed “Congress on your Corner.” She was shot in the head by alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner. Loughner, who listed the Communist Manifesto as one of his favorite books, shot a total of 18 people, six of whom have died. Loughner has a long history of mental instability, drug use and run-ins with the law.

The final flight of Endeavour is currently scheduled for Apr. 19 – Kelly remains commander of the mission.

“Mark is still the commander of STS-134,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office. “He is facing many uncertainties now as he supports Gabrielle, and our goal is to allow him to keep his undistracted attention on his family while allowing preparations for the mission to progress. Designating a backup allows the crew and support team to continue training, and enables Mark to focus on his wife’s care.”

Rick Sturckow is a four-time shuttle veteran and will be serving as Mark Kelly's backup for the STS-134 flight. Photo Credit: NASA/JSC

Sturckow will start his training next week at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Texas with the remainder of the STS-134 crew, Pilot Greg Johnson and Mission Specialists; Mike Fincke, Roberto Vittori, Andrew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff.

Endeavour’s final, 14-day, mission to the International Space Station (ISS) will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02). It will also contain much-needed spare parts including two S-band antennas, a gas tank, and spare parts for Canada’s Dextre robot.

NASA is hoping to launch Discovery at 4:50 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Feb. 24, on the orbiter’s STS-133 mission to the orbiting outpost. Endeavour’s final mission, STS-134, is currently slated to take place at 7:48 p.m. EDT on Apr. 19. The dates were chosen Thursday during the shuttle program’s weekly Program Requirements Control Board meeting (PRCB). Normally launch dates are confirmed about two weeks prior to launch, and as always, these dates are subject to various conditions – and to change.

Commander Mark Kelly can be see here reclining in the center of this official crew portrait. Image Credit: NASA

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