Gabrielle Giffords Fallout: NASA Announces Backup Shuttle Commander, But Her Husband Still Hopes to Fly

NASA is appointing a backup commander for the upcoming shuttle flight led by Mark Kelly, husband of wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, but Kelly says he still expects to make the mission.

Rick Sturckow will be the commander throughout the rest of the training for the April flight, with Kelly attending as much as possible.

"I recommended to my management that we take steps now to prepare to complete the mission in my absence, if necessary," Kelly said. "I am very hopeful that I will be in a position to rejoin my STS-134 crew members to finish our training."

"Mark is still the commander of STS-134," said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office. "He is facing many uncertainties now as he supports Gabrielle, and our goal is to allow him to keep his undistracted attention on his family while allowing preparations for the mission to progress. Designating a backup allows the crew and support team to continue training, and enables Mark to focus on his wife's care."

Sturckow will begin training at the Johnson Space Center next week, NASA said.

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly