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There’s considerable training between now and liftoff, 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.

“I obviously weigh time that I can spend with her, with what I think is in the best interest of NASA and my crew. So that’s a debate I had with myself,” Kelly said.

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.

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.

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AP writers Seth Borenstein in Washington and Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix and video producer Tom Ritchie in Washington contributed to this report. Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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Online:

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