Kelly says 'good chance' his injured wife can attend launch

CBS News

Astronaut Mark Kelly told reporters Thursday he believes there is a "pretty good chance" his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, will be able to attend his launching April 19 aboard the shuttle Endeavour.

While he declined to participate in pre-flight one-on-one media interviews, Kelly opened a crew news conference by providing an update on the Arizona Democrat's condition as she recovers from a gunshot wound to the head.

Shuttle commander Mark Kelly fields questions during a pre-flight news conference Thursday at the Johnson Space Center. (Credit: NASA TV)
"As her doctors described in their last press conference March 11, she's doing remarkably well," Kelly said. "She's improving every day and in the realm of brain injuries, that is very significant and 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. Despite that, she remains in a very good mood.

"She spends most of her day in therapy, enjoys brief visits from friends and colleagues, she was really happy to see my (twin brother Scott Kelly) last week after he returned from space. She gets staff briefings from her staff when they're in town on what's going on with her office, in the district and what's going on in Congress."

Giffords was shot in the head Jan. 8 in Tucson. She is undergoing therapy at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, part of the Memorial Hermann hospital system in Houston. Kelly said he sees his wife every morning before he leaves for work and when he comes back in the evening after training.

"I've said on a few occasions that I'd like her to attend the launch," he said. "She wants to attend, she's been looking forward to this for a long time. As one of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, she was really looking forward to having the opportunity to be there.

"I think there's a pretty good chance that's going to happen. We still don't know for sure, and I'm just awaiting final approval from her doctors."

Kelly said he withdrew from round-robin media interviews because he wanted to focus attention on Endeavour's 25th and final mission and not on personal family matters.

He appeared at ease during the crew news conference and gave short but polite answers to the few personal questions that came his way. He said he would be willing to talk about his wife's recovery in more detail at a later date, but added any such interviews would be arranged by Giffords' staff, not NASA.

Asked how difficult it has been to focus on training while coping with his wife's recovery, Kelly said his previous experience -- Endeavour's flight is his fourth mission -- was a clear advantage.

"I think it would have been really challenging if this was my first shuttle flight or if it was even my first flight as commander of the space shuttle," he said. "But (having previous) experience certainly makes it very manageable, to be able to handle what's going on in my personal life and focusing on the mission.

"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. ... We're getting pretty close to the end and we're ready to do this, and excited about it."

The primary goals of Endeavour's four-spacewalk mission are to deliver a $2 billion particle physics experiment to the International Space Station, along with critical supplies, equipment and a pallet of spare parts that will be stored on the station's main power truss.

But the objectives of the flight have been overshadowed by the Giffords' shooting and intense public interest in its aftermath.

"It was a shock to the whole crew," Endeavour pilot Gregory H. Johnson told CBS News Thursday. "Gabby was a part of our crew as a spouse and everybody in the immediate families of the crew members, we all knew each other and it had a great impact emotionally, for example, on my 13-year old daughter. ... She was devastated."

The Endeavour astronauts all wore blue "awareness" wristbands with Giffords' nickname imprinted

"The bracelet reminds us of the ordeal the world has been through on this," Johnson said. "I think it's amazing that she survived. ... But I think it's even more miraculous the tenacity and the improvement that she's made in such short periods of time.

"It would be wonderful if she could be well enough to attend the launch, I don't think that's well understood yet, but it would be great. And we're hopeful she'll continue improving over the next couple of years and get her job back."