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AP, CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida

US President Barack Obama was on his way, space shuttle Endeavour’s astronauts were riding out to the launch pad in a van and a wounded US Representative Gabrielle Giffords had flown in from her Houston, Texas, rehab hospital to watch her husband blast off on the historic, next-to-last shuttle mission.

Then it all came to a sudden stop.

Without warning on Friday, a faulty heater part forced NASA to scrub the launch and slam the brakes on the space agency’s biggest event in years, a flight made more fascinating to many by the plight of Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, the mission commander.

Endeavour’s flight was delayed until at least tomorrow.

“Bummed about the scrub!! But important to make sure everything on shuttle is working properly,” Giffords’ staff tweeted.

Travel plans for the Arizona congresswoman, who is still recovering from a gunshot wound to the head from an assassination attempt in January, are still up in the air, said her spokesman, C.J. Karamargin. He said she is waiting until today when NASA should know more about a possible launch date.

Obama and his family came to Cape Canaveral anyway and he met with Giffords for about 10 minutes. No details of that visit were given.

Her husband greeted Obama in a corridor, saying: “I bet you were hoping to see a rocket launch today.”

“We were hoping to see you,” Obama replied.

The two men shook hands and embraced.

The president told the Endeavour’s six astronauts he is still hoping to get back to Florida for a shuttle launch.

“One more chance, we may be able to get down here,” Obama said.

As many as 700,000 tailgaters and other spectators had been expected to pour into the seaside area for the liftoff, one of the biggest launch-day crowds in decades. It would have been the first time in NASA history that a president and his family witnessed a launch.

Giffords arrived on Wednesday, nearly four months after the shooting in her hometown of Tuscon, Arizona, but the 40-year-old congresswoman hasn’t been seen in public.

She had planned to watch the launch from a private VIP viewing area along with the other astronauts’ families, before the countdown was halted about three-and-a-half hours short of the 3:47pm liftoff. NASA’s silver-colored astrovan did a U-turn and brought the astronauts back to their crew quarters.

Engineers aren’t certain what part on the heating system — needed for launch and landing — needs to be replaced.

To fix the heater, technicians will have to crawl into the engine compartment. If it is a simple fix, NASA could make another launch attempt as early as tomorrow, Tuesday or Wednesday, but if not, the flight could be delayed to May 8 or later, said launch director Mike Leinbach.

If NASA tries tomorrow, Obama can’t make it, Cabana said.

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