Shot Democrat's husband to command shuttle mission

The astronaut husband of shot US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said she would embrace his decision to rocket into space in two months – and he expects her to be well enough to attend the launch.

The astronaut husband of shot US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said she would embrace his decision to rocket into space in two months – and he expects her to be well enough to attend the launch.

Space shuttle commander Mark Kelly refused to say whether his wife took part in his decision and declined to go into details about her condition or whether she could communicate.

“I know her very well and she would be very comfortable with the decision that I made,” he said.

His decision comes four weeks after Democrat Ms Giffords, 40, was shot in the head outside a Tucson, Arizona, supermarket.

Mr Kelly’s choice to lead space shuttle Endeavour’s final voyage was made easier, he said, by his wife’s rapid progress in rehabilitation.

The 46-year-old astronaut said he never imagined in the immediate aftermath of the shooting that he would ever fly the two-week mission. He immediately halted training after the January 8 shooting.

Mr Kelly said he told Ms Giffords’ mother Gloria there was no way he would leave his wife’s side, but Mrs Giffords responded: “What, are you kidding me?”

Within two weeks, Ms Giffords was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston, Texas, and that was when he started reconsidering.

He weighed up how much time he could spend with her, and how much he needed to be with his crew at Johnson Space Centre on the outskirts of Houston.

“So that’s a debate I had with myself,” he said. The fact that she’s busy all day in rehab was key, he added.

Mr Kelly said their parents, siblings and his teenage daughters were “completely unanimous”.

“Everybody felt that this was the right thing for me to do,” he said.

He said any critics of his decision did not know his wife, saying: “She is a big supporter of my career, a big supporter of Nasa.”

Though doctors described Ms Giffords’ early progress as remarkable, they have said very little about her condition. Houston doctors are not giving updates.

In the first several days after the shooting, she gave a thumbs up and was able to stand with help.

She massaged her husband’s neck, picked out colours on an iPad and playfully took the ring off a nurse’s finger. Friends and Mr Kelly described her as able to understand them.

But rehab experts say her progress will be slow and the head of the hospital where she is staying said doctors would help her reach “a new normal”.

No one has yet reported that Ms Giffords has spoken or made sounds. She can swallow and breathe on her own and follows commands to lift an arm or a leg.

Mr Kelly said a doctor told him she was doing better than 99% of other people with this type of injury.

He said he was not providing any updates on her condition to avoid speculation by strangers.

When asked if Ms Giffords might be well enough to attend his launch, he replied: “Absolutely. I have every intention that she’ll be there for the launch. I’ve already talked to her doctors about it.”

Ms Giffords was meeting constituents when she was gunned down. Six people were killed and 13 were injured in the rampage. A 22-year-old man is in custody.

Mr Kelly’s space mission will be Endeavour’s final flight and the fourth for him. He will lead a veteran, all-male crew to the International Space Station.

The US Navy captain entered the astronaut corps in 1996, along with his identical twin Scott, who is currently circling the planet as the space station commander.

Mr Kelly acknowledged that he considered what would happen to Ms Giffords and the rest of his family if he died on the mission.

“Spaceflight is a risky business. Apparently so is being a member of Congress. We each take risks every day in our lives,” he said.

Mr Kelly’s mission was already set to be one of the highest profile shuttle flights. It will be Endeavour’s last voyage and the next-to-last for the 30-year shuttle programme. The shuttle will deliver a €1.5bn physics experiment by a Nobel Prize winner.

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