Astronaut hopes Giffords will be at shuttle launch

HOUSTON Fri Mar 25, 2011 2:22pm GMT

Space Shuttle Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly answers a question during the mission STS-134 news conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, March 24, 2011. REUTERS/Richard Carson

Space Shuttle Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly answers a question during the mission STS-134 news conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, March 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Richard Carson

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - NASA astronaut Mark Kelly said Thursday there was "a pretty good chance" his wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, critically injured in a shooting in January, will attend his space shuttle launch in Florida next month.

Giffords was shot through the head as she met with constituents outside a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store on January 8. Six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, were killed in the attack and 12 others were injured.

"She's improving every day, and in the realm of brain injuries that is very significant, pretty rare. She's starting to walk, talk more every day and she's starting to process some of the tragedy that we all went through in January, she's going through that as we speak," Kelly told reporters.

"Despite that she remains in a very good mood," he added.

Kelly, the commander of NASA's next-to-last shuttle mission, took a leave of absence after the shooting, but decided to return to work last month after his wife was transferred to a Houston rehabilitation center.

"I see her every morning before I go in to work and when I come home from work at the end of my day," said Kelly, who is preparing for an April 19 launch aboard shuttle Endeavour.

The shuttle will be delivering the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer particle detector to the International Space Station, along with a pallet of spare parts. NASA plans to fly one last mission on sistership Atlantis in June before ending the 30-year-old shuttle program.

"I'd like her to attend the launch. She wants to attend, she's been looking forward to this for a long time," Kelly said.

"She's one of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress. She was really looking forward to having the opportunity to be there and I think there's a pretty good chance that's going to happen," he said.

"We still don't know for sure. I'm just awaiting final approval from her doctors," he added.

Kelly and his crewmates -- pilot Greg Johnson, flight engineer Mike Fincke, Drew Feustel, Greg Chamitoff and the Italian Space Agency's Roberto Vittori -- are scheduled to spend 10 days at the station to help get it ready for operations after the shuttle program ends.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Xavier Briand)

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