Three weeks after his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was gravely injured by a would-be assassin, astronaut Mark Kelly knew he was ready to command a space shuttle mission planned for April, he said Friday.
But his managers needed reassurance. So for the last week, they tested Kelly's ability to focus on the complicated mission while spending extended time away from his wife for the first time since the shooting.
First, Kelly piloted a T-38 trainer jet, demonstrating that his basic flying skills had not waned. Then he spent four hours in a shuttle simulator with his mission's crew, practicing multiple launches and landings while operators threw malfunctions and other challenges Kelly's way. The 24-year Navy and NASA veteran made no mistakes.
Kelly said at a NASA news conference Friday that his training allows him to "compartmentalize" and set aside personal worries in the face of risky missions. "You learn to ignore stuff in your personal life, you learn to separate the mission from things that might be going on in your personal life," he said. But, he said, "This time, it might be a little more challenging to do that."
When Endeavor lifts off on April 19 on what is expected to be the craft's last mission, Kelly will assume responsibility for the lives of himself and five other crew members during a 14-day, multibillion dollar mission to resupply the International Space Station and deliver an astrophysics experiment to the orbiting facility.
Wearing a blue wrist band reading, "Peace, Love, Gabby," and citing his wife's "remarkable progress," Kelly said the decision was unanimous, with Giffords' family and Kelly's managers at NASA all offering unwavering support.
"We had a discussion," Kelly said when asked whether Giffords supported his return to flight training. Kelly declined to provide details on his wife's condition but said: "I know her very well. She would be very comfortable with the decision I made."