Thursday, January 13, 2011

NASA names back-up commander to Mark Kelly's mission

NASA on Thursday named a backup commander for the Endeavour mission to allow the team to continue training in astronaut Mark Kelly's absence.

Kelly's wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head Saturday during a public appearance in Tucson, Ariz. She remains hospitalized, with Kelly maintaining a vigil at her bedside.

Kelly remains commander of the mission, scheduled to launch no earlier than April 19. But to allow the crew to continue training and preparations, Kelly recommended that NASA appoint a backup. NASA named veteran astronaut Rick Sturckow.

"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 next week at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston with the rest of the STS-134 crew, which includes Pilot Greg H. Johnson, Michael Fincke, Roberto Vittori, Andrew Feustel and Greg Chamitoff.

The 14-day mission to the International Space Station will deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and spare parts that include two S-band communications antennas, a high-pressure gas tank, additional spare parts for the Dextre robot and micrometeoroid debris shields.

IMAGES: Above, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly pictured at his wife's hospital bedside. Credit: U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office. Below, NASA astronaut Rick Sturckow, STS-128 commander, is pictured at the commander's station on the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery on Sept. 4, 2009. Credit: NASA.


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