US & Canada

Giffords' husband Kelly to lead last Endeavour mission

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Media captionMark Kelly explains why he has decided to command the shuttle mission

The husband of the US congresswoman injured in an Arizona gun attack is to lead one of the final space shuttle missions in April, Nasa has said.

Gabrielle Giffords' husband Mark Kelly will resume training as Endeavour's commander on Monday.

Mr Kelly said he made the decison because his wife's condition had improved "very fast."

Ms Giffords is having rehabilitation therapy in Houston after being shot in the head in January.

Mr Kelly refused to go into details about his wife's condition but told reporters she was recovering "much quicker than the doctors expected".


Mr Kelly's twin brother Scott Kelly is currently the commander of the International Space Station.

"I am looking forward to rejoining my STS-134 crew members and finishing our training for the mission," Mark Kelly said in a statement released by Nasa, referring to the mission number.

"We have been preparing for more than 18 months... I appreciate the confidence that my Nasa management has in me and the rest of my space shuttle crew."

Image caption Mr Kelly, shown in 2006, has been to space three times

The mission aboard the 20-year-old Endeavour is to deliver scientific research equipment and spare parts to the International Space Station.

Peggy Whitson, chief of the astronaut office at Nasa's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said: "We are glad to have Mark back. He is a veteran shuttle commander and knows well the demands of the job. We are confident in his ability to successfully lead this mission."

Mark Kelly was training for the mission, which will be his fourth trip to space, when his wife was shot while holding a constituent meeting in Tucson in the state of Arizona.

'Lots of progress'

Six people were killed in the Tucson attack, including a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge, and several others were wounded.

Jared Loughner, 22, is currently jailed pending trial for the attack.

Image caption Ms Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot at a constituency meeting

Mr Kelly, 46, took leave from the training to stay by Ms Giffords' bedside. The former Navy combat aviator's near continuous presence there led to speculation about whether he would withdraw from the mission or remain with his wife as she recovers.

''I obviously weigh the time I can spend with her - with what is in the best interests of Nasa and my crew," he told reporters.

''I know my wife very well and I know what she would want and that makes the decision easier.''

On Wednesday, Mr Kelly wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter: "Today was a huge day for GG. Lots of progress!"

Scott Kelly will be back on Earth by the time Mark Kelly flies; the launch is scheduled for 19 April and would last about two weeks. It will be the 134th and final scheduled flight of the space shuttle.

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