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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. The shuttle will deliver a $2 billion 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.

A former colleague of Kelly’s said she respects his choice.

“I’m not going to second-guess his decision for anything,” said former space shuttle pilot Susan Still Kilrain. “I’m sure it’s the decision that Gabby would have wanted him to make.”

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

“I’m sure this decision was … 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 performed the marriage ceremony for Giffords and Kelly in 2007, said the couple has been communicating but she did not elaborate. They have a strong history of supporting one another, she noted.

“My sense is that he sat with her and they made the decision together,” Aaron said.

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Aerospace Writer Marcia Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Fla. AP writer Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix and video producer Tom Ritchie in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle