Endeavour launch to attract a VIP crowd

Days before Friday's planned launch of space shuttle Endeavour, officials at Kennedy Space Center in Florida are bracing for monster crowds and the logistical nightmares expected to accompany a presidential visit to watch the second-to-last flight of the shuttle fleet.

Chief among their concerns — other than a safe flight — is the arrival of President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters Malia and Sasha. The Obamas are expected to be joined by wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), whose husband, Mark E. Kelly, is commander of the Endeavour mission.

"Endeavour countdown has officially begun. Good luck to #STS-134 crew!" was one message sent Tuesday from Giffords' Twitter feed.

The congresswoman's staff told the Associated Press that Giffords — recovering in a Houston rehab center after being shot in Tucson by a would-be assassin in January — traveled to Florida on Wednesday. She is to be joined by an estimated 40 members of Congress and 250 of their staff members, many of whom want to see a launch before the shuttle era ends.

Officials are expecting a sell-out crowd. With the shuttle program winding down, demand to watch a launch has increased dramatically. The Discovery launch in 1998 was attended by then-President Clinton, the last time a sitting president was present at a liftoff.

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