Three-time shuttle veteran Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, will fly once more. Kelly will resume training with the rest of his crew for the STS-134 mission, currently scheduled for April 19, NASA announced February 4. He had been on personal leave, and his status as commander of the penultimate space shuttle mission had been uncertain, following the January 8 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in which Giffords was shot in the head and six others were killed.
Five days after the shooting, NASA announced that it had designated astronaut Rick Sturckow as backup commander for the STS-134 mission in case Kelly was not ready to fly. The mission, which will deliver to the International Space Station (ISS) a particle physics experiment called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, is the final flight for space shuttle Endeavour as the shuttle program winds down toward a planned June conclusion.
In a February 4 news conference, Kelly politely declined to address numerous reporters' inquiries about his wife's status. "I don't want to get into details on her condition or her progress," he said, "but let me say that she improves every day." Giffords's continuing recovery made his decision progressively easier. "I know her very well, and she would be very comfortable with the decision that I made," he added.
Mark Kelly's twin brother Scott is also an astronaut who is currently in orbit as commander of the ISS. Scott Kelly is set to leave the ISS in March, before Mark Kelly lifts off, so the two brothers will not meet in space.
Photo of Kelly (left) training in September for the upcoming STS-134 mission: NASA