Husband: Giffords wants to be at shuttle launch
HOUSTON (AP) – The astronaut husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said Thursday that she wants to be at his shuttle launch next month. And she will be, he said, pending final approval from her doctors.
Giffords is beginning to cope with the shooting in January that injured 12 others and killed six, Mark Kelly said. She’s doing “remarkably well,” he told reporters at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
The congresswoman was shot in the head in Tucson, Ariz., while meeting with constituents.
“She’s improving every day – and in the realm of brain injuries that is very significant and pretty rare,” Kelly said. “She’s starting to walk, talk more – more every day.”
Two weeks ago, Giffords’ doctors said she doesn’t remember the shooting, but Kelly told her about it.
“She’s starting to process some of the tragedy that we all went through in January,” her husband said. “Despite that, she remains in a very good mood.”
Kelly spoke at the traditional preflight news conference for shuttle crews. With all six crew members wearing turquoise “Gabby” wristbands, Kelly spoke first, reading from a statement before the astronauts took questions. He said he wanted reporters to focus on the shuttle mission, not his wife’s recovery.
He left immediately afterward and declined to take part in the usual individual interviews. He said he anticipated a lot of questions about his wife, and noted that everything about the mission could be covered in the news conference.
On Tuesday, his identical twin, Scott, also an astronaut, canceled a series of interviews after the first few TV journalists asked him about Giffords. Scott Kelly arrived in Houston last week after five months aboard the International Space Station, and visited with Giffords the next day.
“She was really happy to see my brother last week after he returned from space,” Mark Kelly said.
Kelly, 47, is the commander of NASA’s next-to-last shuttle flight. Shuttle Endeavour is due to blast off for the final time April 19, carrying up a $2 billion physics experiment to the space station. The fleet is retiring after shuttle Atlantis makes one last trip to the space station this summer, ending the 30-year-old shuttle program.
Kelly quit training after his wife was shot. But a month later he decided to fly the two-week mission. At the time, he said he hoped his wife would be able to attend the launch.
On Thursday, he said there’s “a pretty good chance” she’ll make the launch.
“We still don’t know for sure,” he said. “I’m just awaiting final approval from her doctors.
As one of NASA’s biggest supporters in Congress, “She wants to attend. She’s been looking forward to this for a long time,” he said. Giffords, 40, a Democrat, served on the House Science and Technology Committee, and took on NASA affairs while heading the space subcommittee.
Giffords hasn’t been seen publicly since the shooting, and almost certainly would view the launch from a restricted area reserved for the crew’s families at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Within two weeks of the shooting, Giffords was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston. Kelly said he sees her every morning before work and at the end of the day.
Until the shooting, the couple, who married in 2007, split their time between Arizona, Texas and Washington.
Kelly said he’s been able to focus on training for the shuttle mission. It would have been “really challenging,” he said, if this was his first shuttle flight, or even his first time as a shuttle commander. He’s flown three times on shuttles, once as commander in 2008.
“I’ve given this mission everything I would have if the events of January did not happen. So I’m very focused. We’re very prepared as a crew,” he said.
He noted the launch is fast approaching. “We’re getting pretty close to the end and we’re ready to do this, and excited about it.”