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Posted at 1:49 PM ET, 01/13/2011

NASA names backup commander for Giffords's husband

By Ed O'Keefe

Space shuttle Discovery commander Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, right, gestures as he walks with his twin brother astronaut Scott Kelly, left, and mission specialist Ron Garan, after arrival at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in May 2008. (AP)

NASA has named a backup commander for the Space Shuttle Endeavour's forthcoming mission to the International Space Station, a trip scheduled to be led by Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, (D-Ariz.) wounded in the Tucson shooting.

Giffords's doctors say she is making significant progress after being shot through the head on Saturday during an event with constituents.

Kelly, a Naval captain who lives in Houston and trains at NASA's Johnson Space Center there, quickly flew to Tucson Saturday to be with his wife.

Astronaut Rick Sturckow will serve as Kelly's backup commander for the STS-134 mission so that the crew can continue training for its scheduled launch on April 19, NASA said Thursday.

Kelly remains commander of the mission, said Peggy Whitson, chief of NASA's Astronaut Office. "He is facing many uncertainties now as he supports Gabrielle, and our goal is to allow him to keep his undistracted attention on his family while allowing preparations for the mission to progress," Whitson said in a statement. "Designating a backup allows the crew and support team to continue training, and enables Mark to focus on his wife's care."

Kelly recommended the assignment of a backup commander, he said in the same statement, adding, "I am very hopeful that I will be in a position to rejoin my STS-134 crew members to finish our training."

Sturckow will begin training with the STS-134 crew next week at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The crew also includes Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Michael Fincke, Roberto Vittori, Andrew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff.

The two-week mission is set to deliver a magnetic spectrometer and spare parts, including a high-pressure gas tank.

Kelly's twin brother, Scott, is currently aboard the International Space Station, but due to return to Earth before Mark is scheduled to arrive.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 13, 2011; 1:49 PM ET
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I believe that Mark Kelly should immediately withdraw from the STS-134 shuttle mission and devote himself full time to his wife's care. His wife has to come first in this instance, she has been shot in the head and is completely helpless, totally traumatized and needs his full and loving attention. She is his wife. That is a lifelong commitment, and supercedes any and all other commitments he may have professionally. This should be a total no-brainer and Mr. Kelly should not even remotely be considering making this shuttle flight. He is at his wife's side now, and he should stay there for as long as it takes for her complete rehabilitation, both physical and mental. The shuttle mission of which Astronaut Kelly is the commander will not suffer in his absence, but his wife's mission to recover most certainly will suffer if he is absent from her side.

Posted by: thewriteone1129 | January 13, 2011 6:55 PM | Report abuse

OTOH, his presence providing full and loving attention will not actually help her in any utilitarian, practical sense (though it may add some spiritual dimension, but if so, why would his physical presence be required? Can't he pray from low Earth orbit?). Space missions are rare, twice or thrice-in-a-lifetime type stuff. His wife would want him up there if he could be. No the mission won't suffer. His career won't suffer. But he won't be doing his raison d
'etre. And be honest, do you really actually think her recovery mission will suffer if he is absent from her side?

Posted by: TechConsultant | January 13, 2011 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Dear TechConsultant:

Yes, I most certainly do think her recovery mission will suffer if he is absent from her side. She has been shot in the head. Isn't that a serious enough reason for you to think she might need him at her side for all the support and love he can offer? If that is not, I cannot imagine what might be such a reason. And I fully challenge your idea that going on a space mission is his reason for existence. There is no such thing, no one reason we are all here on this earth, our lives have meaning for many different reasons. He took no oath in the sight of God and man to fly around the earth a few times. He did take such an oath to be by his wife's side in sickness and in health, and if being shot in the head does not fall under the heading of "in sickness", nothing does. Yes, space missions are rare events, but then having your wife getting shot in the head is even more rare, and trumps any ego-driven thrill event like a space flight. I have always supported human spaceflight, the first Moon landing was on my 15th birthday; I once entertained the ambition to be the First Man on Mars, and went to Purdue University to prepare for just such a future. But if, God forbid, Neil Armstrong's wife had been attacked in the same fashion as Astronaut Kelly's before the launch of Apollo 11, I would be arguing that he should have removed himself from the flight roster and given up the chance to be The First Man on the Moon. And if I had ever had the chance to be First Man on Mars, I would have given up the chance for that as well if my wife were so horribly attacked and injured as Commander Kelly's. Your marital obligations come first, period.

Posted by: thewriteone1129 | January 13, 2011 8:16 PM | Report abuse

The Post deserves a lot of credit for running that wonderful picture of an exhausted Captain Kelly, eyes closed,just holding his wife's hand. That said a lot. I'd bet a generous amount that he's there as long as she needs him. And, Mr. President, that's the real America. Thanks for your speech that picked up that tone.

Posted by: cobbbalto1 | January 14, 2011 5:17 AM | Report abuse

You are making an assumption with no basis in fact other than your own personal views. It is too early to speculate on the statuse of the Congresswomans rehab. It is also; given the nature of their marriage and how they support each other professionally, not clear that his pulling out would have a negative impact on her from the standpoint that she may feel rsponsible for him missing his mission. That could have a negative impact on her rehab.

Perhaps it's best to leave the decision to them. Without a bunch of public opinions or internet polls that surely will come soon.

Posted by: cf6driver | January 14, 2011 6:13 AM | Report abuse

to the thewriteone1129: I will never, ever understand how a stranger can be so sure of what another stranger should do. I am sure that Mr. Kelly will make his own decision with due consideration.

Posted by: VeronicaTexas | January 14, 2011 6:21 AM | Report abuse

This is news? How many spouses have missed important "missions" because their loved ones were sick or injured? The compost like most other media outlets has shamelessly used this tragedy to advance their ret@rded agenda. How many people died in Brazil as a result of the landslides? What about the people killed or suffering from the floods in Australia? No, their lives are unimportant because their stories can't advance gun control, attack Sarah Palin, and attempt to destroy conservatives. Shameless, cowardly, and immature; that's the compost and it's kiddie scripting writers.

Posted by: freepost | January 14, 2011 6:45 AM | Report abuse

Reality check for freepost, who writes: "This is news? ...The compost like most other media outlets has shamelessly used this tragedy to advance their ret@rded agenda. How many people died in Brazil as a result of the landslides? What about the people killed or suffering from the floods in Australia? No, their lives are unimportant because their stories can't advance gun control, attack Sarah Palin, and attempt to destroy conservatives. Shameless, cowardly, and immature; that's the compost and it's kiddie scripting writers."

The reality check is this:

Assassination is not just a tragedy, like a flood, or even just a crime against an individual. It is an assault on the United States.

When President Reagan was shot, but survived, it was rightfully a huge news story that reverberates to this day. Not because some guy got shot, but because the president was almost assassinated.

At the local level, that is why a cop killing matters more and is reported on more. Not because the policeman was a nice guy, though he may well have been, but because a violent attack on an officer of the law is a violent attack on our government.

If this assassin had succeeded in killing Congresswoman Giffords, and it's hard to see how much closer he could have gotten to succeeding than this outcome, it would have been the first assassination of a member of Congress since the Jonestown Massacre and the first assassination of a member of Congress on American soil since Robert Kennedy.

This is a huge event in American history, not some routine but tragic episode of the type that happens year in and year out. It will be in the history books alongside the attempted Reagan assassination, the Jonestown Massacre, and Robert Kennedy's murder (and, of course, his brother's). I don't want to see any more pages filled out in that chapter.

I hope we never become a country where assassination is just brushed off as one of those things, like a natural disaster in Australia. Our country deserves better than that.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter1 | January 14, 2011 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Rep Giffords should be transferred out of the hospital soon to a top notch rehabilitation center. So Kelly should be able to return to his training at NASA in the near future. He won't be welcome at her rehabilitation center or able to help her physical recovery once she is released from ICU. She needs intensive therapy not a husband.

Posted by: Desertdiva1 | January 14, 2011 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I agree with "TechConsultant" and "VeronicaTexas."

"thewriteone1129" is an overbearing nosey busybody who needs to get a life of their own and stop worrying about how others live theirs.

Posted by: kjclark1963 | January 14, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

As a former NASA guy, I might say that there *could* be a substantial, practical reason to scrub Kelly from that mission. Just to argue the 'stay with wifey' side of the coin. Namely, you don't want him up there on a mission distracted by worrying about his wife on Earth. When you send people into space they need to be focused on what they are doing, or everybody aboard dies.

As for the mission of his marriage, dunno. Maybe he discussed it with his wife previously. Helluva pillow talk conversation. Whatever he decides is OK with me.

Posted by: TechConsultant | January 14, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

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