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NASA says the space shuttle Endeavour will honor former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with a flyover of her hometown, Tucson, on its way from Texas to a California museum where it will be displayed.
NASA spokeswoman Lisa Malone says Thursday's flyover was requested by Giffords' husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who is the last person to fly the shuttle. Malone says the flyover gives NASA the chance to recognize Giffords' legacy as a longtime advocate and champion of American human spaceflight.
Giffords resigned from Congress earlier this year to focus on her recovery from wounds suffered in a 2011 attack in Tucson in which six people were killed and she and 12 others were injured.
Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday to watch the shuttle land in Houston for an overnight stay, an exciting but bittersweet moment for many residents who felt spurned that Space City wasn't chosen as the final home for one of the five retired shuttles.
"I think that it's the worst thing that they can do, rotten all the way," said 84-year-old Mary Weiss, clinging to her walker just before Endeavour landed after flying low over Gulf Coast towns, New Orleans and then downtown Houston and its airports.
Space City, partly made famous by Tom Hanks when he uttered the line "Houston, we have a problem" in the movie "Apollo 13," has long tied its fortune to a mix of oil and NASA. Astronauts train in the humid, mosquito-ridden city, and many call it home years after they retire. The Johnson Space Center and an adjacent museum hug Galveston Bay.
Houston's bid for a shuttle was rejected after the White House retired the fleet last summer to spend more time and money on reaching destinations, such as Mars and asteroids. Instead, Houston got a replica that used to be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center.
"The one we're getting is a toy. An important toy, but a toy nonetheless," said Scott Rush, 54, of Crystal Beach, Texas.
Still, people came out in droves Wednesday, waving American flags and toting space shuttle toys, cameras and cellphones.
Back-to-back delays in the ferry flight resulted in one day being cut from the Houston visit. After landing, the Endeavour rolled slowly in front of the cheering crowd. It circled and preened like a runway model, giving awed spectators an opportunity to take pictures from a variety of angles.
"I want to go on it," said 3-year-old Joshua Lee as he headed to the landing area with his mother and grandmother.
Joshua's mother, Jacqueline Lee of Houston, viewed the landing as an educational opportunity.
"I don't know if he'll get to see this again," Lee said.