CAPE CANAVERAL — The president was on his way. Space shuttle Endeavour's astronauts were riding out to the launch pad in a van. And a wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had flown in from her Houston rehab hospital to watch her husband blast off Friday on the historic, next-to-last shuttle mission.
Then it all came to a sudden stop.
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 Monday.
"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 Sunday when NASA should know more about a possible launch date.
President Barack Obama and his family came to Cape Canaveral anyway, and he and his family met with Giffords for about 10 minutes. Karamargin said only that Giffords was pleased to meet with them.
Her husband greeted Obama in a corridor, saying: "I bet you were hoping to see a rocket launch today."
Obama replied: "We were hoping to see you."
The president told Endeavour's six astronauts he is hoping to get back for a shuttle launch.
After Endeavour, there is only one more shuttle flight — by Atlantis in June — before NASA ends the 30-year-old program and the orbiters become museum pieces.
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.