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Kelly to keep eye on Giffords from space: source

More than three months after surviving an assassination attempt, Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords continues her amazing recovery. Through it all, her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, has been by her side. But now, he's preparing to take off for space, and if all goes well, Giffords will be at the Florida launch - in person.

On "The Early Show," CBS News Correspondent Don Teague reported Kelly is slated to blast into space from on his final mission as commander of shuttle Endeavour next month.

But will Giffords be there?

Kelly notes, "I've said on a few occasions that I'd like her to attend the launch, and I think there's a pretty good chance that's going to happen -- (we're) just awaiting final approval from her doctors."

Kelly: "Good chance" Giffords will be at launch

For now, Giffords remains in a Houston rehabilitation center, recovering from a gunshot wound to the head suffered during January's assassination attempt.

Kelly spoke along with fellow crew members at a NASA press conference Thursday. He wouldn't take specific questions about his wife, but says she's getting better every day.

He told the media, "She's improving every day, and in the realm of brain injuries, that is very significant and pretty rare. 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 took three weeks off from training for the April 19 mission after the shooting, but says he and his crew are focused and ready for Endeavour's final flight.

"You know, this is my fourth flight, so I'm spending as much time as I would focused on the mission, as if this never even happened to my wife," Kelly said.

Still, those flying with him say the Tucson tragedy took an emotional toll.

Endeavour pilot Greg S. Johnson said, "There was a period of time where we were healing as a crew and trying to understand how we were going to deal with it on a personal level. And so, no, that was not normal and it's still not totally normal."

Kelly says it's always difficult being separated from family members during a mission, but, Teague reports sources say he will have several video chats and phone calls with Giffords from the international space station.

Friday morning on "The Early Show," co-anchor Erica Hill remarked, "Astronaut separation from his or her family is difficult. Mark Kelly, though, obviously faces an even tougher challenge. Retired astronaut Dr. Jerry Linenger knows all about that."

Linenger once spent 132 days in space on a single mission. He knows Kelly and Giffords personally.

Hill said, "The beauty of communication is you can get a lot of news from the ground. When you were up there, you chose not to. How do you make that decision as an astronaut?"

Linenger said, "Yeah, I was pretty much on a Russian space station, broken-down communication. Actually my wife, we just had a newborn going into the mission. And then she was pregnant again, and the big drama was whether I'd make it back five months down the line for our delivery of our second child. And so, what you do, you know, you talk it through, you focus on what you're doing."

He added, "You're part of something that's moving mankind forward, I think, is the thought that astronauts have -- that this is greater than me. It's worth my life. And it's, you know, worth the sacrifice I have to make. So you compartmentalize it away, you focus. And Mark is an expert at that."

Hill said, though, that the thought of Giffords has to be in Kelly's mind.

"We're all human beings," Linenger said. "You know, we relate to human beings. And an astronaut is no different. I think that's why manned space program is such an incredible thing. We're able to come back and talk about our experiences. But Mark is an old naval aviator. That's my background. He used to fly off aircraft carriers, back in on a dark night flying onto an aircraft carrier. You learn very quickly that you have to focus no matter what's going on in your life. You push it away, and you get the job done. Launching in a rocket, exactly the same thing. You're in that seven, eight minutes of chaos going into space. You just block everything away. You focus. You do your job. You're part of a great team. And you're moving mankind forward and everything just has to get pushed aside for a bit."

Hill pointed out, "There has been some criticism over his decision to continue with this mission. Do you understand some of that criticism?"

"Oh, I understand it," Linenger said. "I'm leaving my pregnant wife behind!"

"I imagine you took a little heat for that one," Hill joked.

"I definitely did," he said. "You know, the to-do list was huge and every woman in America was, 'What's that guy doing?' But you know, your life's circumstances change. My wife and I made the decision to do this Russian thing, which is two years in Russia, learning the language, going up on a broken-down space station, being separated. We made that decision before we had children. Then we find out she's pregnant. Then we have a newborn. Then she's pregnant again."

He said Kelly and Giffords have the same awareness of the job.

"She knows when she married Mark," he said. "She has her job. She does important things in Congress. She's dedicated to what she does. And Mark has been dedicated to what he does. So it's just a little bit longer, and more distant separation. But it's kind of what we all face."

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