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Image: Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly
AP file
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with husband Mark Kelly.
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updated 2/4/2011 5:33:51 PM ET 2011-02-04T22:33:51

The astronaut husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said his wife would be "very comfortable" with his decision to go back into space and he expects her to be at his launch in April.

Space shuttle commander Mark Kelly wouldn't go into details about her condition during a news conference Friday, and deflected questions about how he knows she supports his choice to fly.

"I know her very well and she would be very comfortable with the decision that I made," he said.

Kelly took a leave from training after Giffords was gunned down in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8. NASA announced earlier Friday he would resume training for space shuttle Endeavour's two-week mission.

The astronaut said he plans for his wife to be at Cape Canaveral, Fla., for liftoff, targeted for April 19.

"I have every intention that she'll be there for launch. I've talked to her doctors about that," he said.

It will be Endeavour's final flight and the fourth spaceflight for Kelly.

Kelly said the congresswoman continues to improve in rehab in Houston. One doctor has described her recovery as "lightning speed." She's kept very busy with therapy, a key to his decision, he said.

The 40-year-old Giffords was in intensive care for two weeks in Arizona, with Kelly at her bedside, before she was transferred to Houston for what is expected to be a lengthy rehabilitation. Kelly wanted her as close to him as possible if he returned to work at Johnson Space Center. He lives in the Houston area with his two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, Claudia and Claire.

Giffords was meeting with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket when she was shot in the head. Six people were killed and 13 were injured in the rampage; a 22-year-old suspect is in custody.

Giffords' wound was devastating, and Kelly, 46, said he initially expected to step down as commander of Endeavour. In the meantime, NASA named a backup commander, Rick Sturckow, who joined the crew for training. Kelly said all along that he wanted his wife's input in the matter, if at all possible.

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Though doctors described her early progress as remarkable, they have said very little about her condition, including whether she's able to speak. She was shot in the left side of her brain and doctors have said she had weakness on her right side.

In the first several days after the shooting, she gave a thumbs up and was able to stand with help. She massaged her husband's neck, picked out colors on an iPad and playfully took the ring off a nurse's finger. Friends and Kelly described her as able to understand them.

Her hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann, last week said it would not provide any more information on her condition. In a Twitter update Wednesday, her husband said Giffords is making "Lots of progress!"

Kelly — whose identical twin Scott currently is commander of the International Space Station — will lead a veteran, all-male, American-Italian crew to the space station. Scott Kelly will be back on Earth by then.

There's considerable training between now and liftoff, almost certainly with long hours and few days off for the crew. The six astronauts will go into quarantine a week before the launch, with limited access to family members.

"I obviously weighed time I could spend with her over time I could spend with NASA and my crew," he said on Friday.

Kelly's mission already was set to be one of the highest profile shuttle flights ever. It will be Endeavour's last voyage and the next-to-last for the entire 30-year shuttle program, and will feature the delivery of an elaborate physics experiment by a Nobel prize winner.

Endeavour was originally scheduled to launch in July, but was bumped into 2011 because the experiment wasn't ready.

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"I'm not going to second guess his decision for anything. I respect his decision, I'm sure it's the decision that Gabby would have wanted him to make and I'm sure he has the support of his family and friends there," said former astronaut Susan Still Kilrain, who gave up her astronaut career when she had the first of her four children.

Susan Hileman, who was wounded in Tucson, trusts Kelly's decision. She was holding 9-year-old Christina Green's hand when the shooting erupted. The girl was killed.

"I'm sure this decision was carefully made and thoughtfully made, and right for him and for them," said Hileman, who was shot three times. "He's kind and thoughtful and he loves his wife as much as my husband loves me, which is a lot, and we're both lucky women to have such strong men in our lives."

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, who married Giffords and Kelly in 2007, said the couple has been communicating but she didn't elaborate.

"I think that once he saw that Gabby was so strong and on the mend ... that he made the decision based on, I'm sure, what her wishes would be," Aaron said.

AP writers Seth Borenstein in Washington and Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix and video producer Tom Ritchie in Washington contributed to this report. Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Mark Kelly prepares for April space flight

  1. Closed captioning of: Mark Kelly prepares for April space flight

    >>> hard to believe it's been almost a month since those awful shootings in tucson, and for captain mark kelly , the husband of congresswoman gabby giffords , in the background of all of it he's been through, a decision whether to return to his job and return to space commanding the space shuttle in a mission that's scheduled for april. today he made up his mind, and nbc's tom costello has the story.

    >> she's doing very, very well.

    >> reporter: wearing a blue wrist band that reads peace, love and gabby, mark kelly said both her family and his were unanimous. it's time for him to return to space.

    >> i know her very well, and she would be very comfortable with the decision that i made.

    >> reporter: kelly declined to describe his conversations with giffords or her condition, saying only she spends eight hours a day in rehab. but with her recovery surprising even her doctors, kelly last week asked nasa for permission to rejoin his crew and prepare for their april mission. after some simulator and cockpit time this week, nasa agreed.

    >> it is the best thing for our mission to have mark be the commander.

    >> reporter: on the orbiting space station , mark's twin brother , scott kelly .

    >> i think my brother is doing about as well as anyone could expect in this type of a situation.

    >> reporter: for mark kelly , who spent 18 months training, this will be his fourth and final shuttle mission. in space he'll have e-mail, phone and perhaps even a video link with his wife and family as giffords' mother makes decisions about her care. today kelly responded to critics who say he should remain grounded with her.

    >> they don't know her very well, so they don't know what she would want. she is a big supporter of my career, a big supporter of nasa . she really values the mission of nasa .

    >> reporter: meanwhile in tucson today, volunteers began wrapping up and boxing the thousands of cards, flowers and tributes to the victims of last month's attack. as a city and a husband try to find some normalcy. tom costello, nbc news, washington.

Timeline: Space shuttle timeline

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Y. Beletsky / ESO
    Above: Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014
  2. Image: US Senate holds hearing on Gun Control
    Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
    Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

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