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Giffords’ husband decides to fly on space shuttle
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The astronaut husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will head to space in April, a stunning decision coming almost one month to the day that his wife was shot through the head.
The congresswoman not only survived, by all accounts she is making good progress in rehab in Houston, where husband Mark Kelly will resume training Monday for shuttle Endeavour’s final voyage. One doctor has described her recovery as “lightning speed.”
NASA confirmed late Friday morning that Mr. Kelly will be aboard Endeavour as commander of the two-week mission. He is holding a press conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston on Friday afternoon.
Mr. Kelly, who’s been on leave since the shooting, said in a news release that he’s looking forward to rejoining his crew and finishing all the training. He noted that they have been preparing for the space station delivery mission for more than 18 months and will be ready to carry it out.
Mr. Kelly took a leave from training after his wife was gunned down outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket as she met with constituents on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 13 were injured in the rampage; a 22-year-old suspect is in custody.
The 40-year-old congresswoman was in intensive care for two weeks, with Mr. Kelly at her bedside, before she was transferred to Houston for what is expected to be a lengthy rehabilitation. Mr. Kelly wanted her as close to him as possible, if he returned to work at Johnson Space Center. He lives in the Houston area with his two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, Claudia and Claire.
Mr. Kelly, 46, spent the past month debating whether to step down as commander of Endeavour. As he agonized over the decision, NASA named a backup commander, Rick Sturckow, who joined the crew for training. Mr. Kelly said all along that he wanted his wife’s input in the matter, if at all possible.
He has just over two months before liftoff, targeted for April 19. There’s considerable training between now and then for the mission, almost certainly with long hours and few days off for the crew. The six astronauts will go into quarantine a week before the launch, with limited access to family members.
“We are glad to have Mark back,” NASA’s chief astronaut, Peggy Whitson said in the news release. “He is a veteran shuttle commander and knows well the demands of the job. We are confident in his ability to successfully lead this mission.”
Mr. Kelly has flown three times aboard space shuttles; April’s trip to the International Space Station will be his fourth. He will lead a veteran, all-male, American-Italian crew.
The 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.
Mr. Kelly’s mission originally was scheduled for 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.
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