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Kelly’s mission already was set to be one of the highest profile shuttle flights ever. It will be Endeavour’s last voyage and the next-to-last for the entire 30-year shuttle program, and will feature the delivery of an elaborate physics experiment by a Nobel prize winner.

Endeavour was originally scheduled to launch last July, but was bumped into 2011 because the experiment wasn’t ready.

With Kelly back on board, the launch will “get the same kind of attention that the (1998) John Glenn mission” received, said Howard McCurdy, a public policy professor and space expert at American University in Washington, D.C.

McCurdy suggested the public will embrace Kelly’s decision, because it provides a sense of normalcy.

“We all want her to go back to Congress; we’d like them both to continue their careers and we’d like them to be whole and normal as if this thing had never happened,” said McCurdy, author of the book “Space and the American Imagination.”

Susan Hileman, who was wounded in Tucson, trusts Kelly’s decision. She was holding 9-year-old Christina Green’s hand when the shooting erupted. The girl was killed.

“I’m sure this decision was carefully made and thoughtfully made, and right for him and for them,” said Hileman, who was shot three times. “He’s kind and thoughtful and he loves his wife as much as my husband loves me, which is a lot, and we’re both lucky women to have such strong men in our lives.”

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, who married Giffords and Kelly in 2007, said the couple has been communicating but she didn’t elaborate.

“I think that once he saw that Gabby was so strong and on the mend …. that he made the decision based on, I’m sure, what her wishes would be,” Aaron said.

Both Kellys are Navy captains and joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1996. In an interview from the space station Wednesday, Scott Kelly said their Navy background as high-performance pilots enables them to put their personal lives aside, when necessary, and focus on the job at hand.

“My brother certainly is very good at that,” Scott Kelly told The Associated Press. “I am absolutely 100 percent confident that he will have no problem fulfilling his responsibilities the same way as if this incident would have never occurred.”

Scott Kelly will be back on Earth by the time his brother flies. He’s due to land in a Russian Soyuz capsule in mid-March, closing out a 5 1/2-month mission.

Last fall, Mark Kelly told the AP he felt lucky to command one of the last shuttle flights. Atlantis will close out the shuttle program this summer, if enough money is forthcoming.

“It’s just timing, actually. It’s all about timing,” he said. “I’ve got a great mission. I’ve got a great crew. I’ve got what I think is going to be some of the most important science that the space station does.”

Until late last year, there was a chance the Kellys would meet up in space because of their coinciding missions. But that opportunity was dashed by delays caused by fuel tank cracks on shuttle Discovery.

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