Husband: Giffords would embrace flight decision

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Associated Press

Posted on February 4, 2011 at 9:31 PM

HOUSTON -- The astronaut husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
said Friday his wounded wife would embrace his decision to rocket
into space in two months and he expects her to be well enough to be
at his launch.
  
Space shuttle commander Mark Kelly refused to say whether the
congresswoman took part in his decision and declined to go into
details about her condition or whether she can communicate.
  
"I know her very well and she would be very comfortable with
the decision that I made," Kelly told reporters.
  
His decision, announced Friday, comes just four weeks after
Giffords was shot in the head outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket.
His choice to lead space shuttle Endeavour's final voyage was made
easier, he said, by his wife's rapid progress in rehab.
  
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 quit training after the Jan. 8
shooting.
  
Kelly said he told her mother there was no way he'd leave
Giffords' side. Gloria Giffords responded, "What, are you kidding
me?"
  
Within two weeks, Giffords was transferred to TIRR Memorial
Hermann hospital in Houston, and that's when he started
reconsidering. He weighed how much time he could spend with her,
and how much he needed to be with his crew at Johnson Space Center
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.
  
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.
  
Kelly said any critics of his decision don't know his wife.
  
"She is a big supporter of my career, a big supporter of
NASA," he said.
  
Giffords' bullet wound was devastating. Though doctors described
her 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 colors on an iPad and playfully took the ring off
a nurse's finger. Friends and 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's staying said doctors will help her reach
"a new normal."
  
No one has yet reported that Giffords has spoken or made sounds.
She can swallow and breathe on her own and follows commands to lift
an arm or a leg.
  
Kelly said a doctor told him she's doing better than 99 percent
of other people with this type of injury. He said he's not
providing any updates on her condition to avoid speculation by
strangers.
  
"It's not something I feel comfortable talking about," he
said.
  
When asked if 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."
  
Giffords, 40, was meeting with constituents when she was gunned
down. Six people were killed and 13 were injured in the rampage; a
22-year-old suspect is in custody.
  
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.
  
A Navy captain, he entered the astronaut corps in 1996, along
with his identical twin Scott, who's currently circling the planet
as the space station commander.
  
Two astronauts now in management positions sat at Kelly's side
during the 47-minute news conference, televised live on NASA TV.
They had chosen a backup commander just in case. After Kelly
approached them a week ago about rejoining his crew, they discussed
it with NASA flight surgeons as well as Giffords' doctors. They
told him to wait a week and try easing back into training, to see
how it would feel being apart from his wife. He flew training jets
twice this past week, did a four-hour launch simulation and even
went out of town.
  
In the end, NASA officials agreed he was ready to return to the
shuttle commander's seat. Chief astronaut Peggy Whitson explained
that it's better to fly someone who's been training for the past 18
months, like Kelly has, than to plug in someone new.
  
There's considerable training between now and the April 19
launch target date, 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.
  
Kelly acknowledged that he considered what would happen to
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 everyday in our lives," he
said.
  
He assured his bosses he will not change his mind about flying,
no matter what happens between now and then. When he resumes
training Monday, he'll face a longer work commute. He's moved into
a friend's home in downtown Houston to be closer to Giffords'
hospital. As for when he's in orbit, he said he'll make do with
e-mail updates and his mother-in-law will make any necessary
decisions about his wife's care while he's gone. By then, his
brother will be back home and lending support.
  
The mood in the news auditorium at the space center was subdued.
Before the event began, Kelly read over some note cards and sipped
water. He took no questions from any of the 20 gathered journalists
once the news conference ended, quickly leaving the room.
  
He wore a blue wrist band that bore a peace sign, a heart and
the name "Gabby."
  
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.

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

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