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Official: Giffords' astronaut husband going to fly

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - The astronaut husband of wounded
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has made his choice. He's headed to space
in April.
An official close to the space shuttle program confirmed Friday
morning that astronaut Mark Kelly will be aboard Endeavour for its
final flight. The official did not want to be named because the
information has not yet been made public.
Kelly is holding a news conference at Johnson Space Center in
Houston on Friday afternoon.
He took a leave from training after his wife was gunned down
outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket on Jan. 8 as she met with
constituents on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 12 others
injured. Giffords is now undergoing rehab in Houston.
Kelly, 46, spent the past month debating whether to step down as
commander of Endeavour's two-week mission. As he agonized over the
decision, NASA named a backup commander, Rick Sturckow, who joined
crew training.
Liftoff is targeted for April 19.
Kelly's identical twin, Scott, currently commander of the
International Space Station, hinted in an interview earlier this
week that his brother would choose to fly.
Kelly has flown three times aboard space shuttles; April's trip
to the International Space Station will be his fourth.
The 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.
With Kelly back on board, the launch will "get the same kind of
attention that the (1998) John Glenn mission" received, said
Howard McCurdy, a public policy professor and space expert at
American University in Washington, D.C.
McCurdy suggested the public will embrace Kelly's decision,
because it provides a sense of normalcy.
"We all want her to go back to Congress; we'd like them both to
continue their careers and we'd like them to be whole and normal as
if this thing had never happened," said McCurdy, author of the
book "Space and the American Imagination."
Both Kellys are Navy captains and joined NASA's astronaut corps
in 1996. In an interview from the space station Wednesday, Scott
Kelly said their Navy background as high-performance pilots enables
them to put their personal lives aside, when necessary, and focus
on the job at hand.
"My brother certainly is very good at that," he told The
Associated Press. "If he does choose, and NASA management chooses,
for him to fly this mission ... I am absolutely 100 percent
confident that he will have no problem fulfilling his
responsibilities the same way as if this incident would have never
Scott Kelly will be back on Earth by the time his brother flies.
He's due to land in a Russian Soyuz capsule in mid-March, closing
out a 5½-month mission.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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