Times Staff Writer
Former NASA official George Abbey knows the Arizona congresswoman who was shot, and he can guess what she would tell her husband about his plans to launch aboard the space shuttle less than three months from now.
"I think she would say he should go fly. She would want him to fly the mission," said Abbey, a former director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. So far, no decision has been made.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a space advocate, is well known in the NASA community, as is her husband, shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly.
A decision will likely come soon on whether Kelly can still serve as the commander of the April mission, which could be the last space shuttle flight ever, depending on a decision from Congress.
"I think Mark fully understands what it takes to do that mission and how much time that would take from Gabrielle," said Abbey, a space policy expert at the Baker Institute at Rice University. "He would have to weigh that, and NASA would give a lot of weight to Mark's assessment."
Kelly has flown on shuttles three times and has been training as the commander of the April flight aboard Endeavour. He and his brother Scott are the only twin astronauts in NASA history, and Scott is currently in orbit aboard the International Space Station.
As commander, Kelly's job is essentially to be pilot of the spacecraft and captain of the crew. In spite of the importance of the job, it might actually be easier to replace a commander than, say, an astronaut who trained for years on a complicated spacewalk.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.