Mark Kelly, the astronaut husband of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was gravely wounded in the Tucson shooting rampage, says that he has never been a deeply religious person, but the assassination attempt on his wife has deepened his faith.
Paying a moving tribute to his wife and to the power of faith during the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington yesterday, Kelly said Giffords, who was shot in the head last month in a gun attack that left six other people dead, "gets a little bit better" every day.
Urging the nation to keep her in its thoughts and prayers because "it's helping," Kelly, a NASA astronaut, said it was only recently that he had become a "big believer" in faith and expressed his hope that the tragedy would somehow contribute to a greater good in the future.
"The neurosurgeons and neurologists tell me it (Giffords' progress) is a great sign," he said. "The slope of that curve is very important."
Acknowledging that the weeks following his wife's shooting had been "the hardest of my life," Kelly urged Americans to help make "something good come of all this."
"The last month has been the hardest of my life and the hardest time of my family's life," he said. "We're not the only ones... The shooting has cost other families dearly. Gabby's community in Tucson, my community in Tucson, the people of Tucson are suffering deeply - but suffering together."
Kelly is also weighing the tough decision of whether to command his planned April space shuttle mission, or step down to remain by his wife's side.
Neither NASA nor Kelly have so far indicated which way the decision will go, though NASA appointed veteran astronaut Rick Sturckow to serve as a backup commander during training for the STS-134 mission, which is the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour.
The mission is set to be launch on April 19.
Various signs, however, in recent days have increasingly suggested that Kelly is likely to make the flight.
With almost three months of training still left before his scheduled mission and Giffords' medical condition improving steadily -- as Kelly has reported repeatedly -- the 46–year-old Navy captain and veteran of earlier shuttle missions appears ready to go back to work, one of the people familiar with the matter said.Kelly's twin brother, Scott Kelly, is also an astronaut and is currently serving a long-duration stint on board the International Space Station's Expedition 26 mission.
Scott Kelly told reporters on Wednesday that he had an idea which way his brother was leaning, but that he'd leave it to Mark and NASA to make the announcement.
"As far as him making a decision, I think we'll hear something about that soon," Scott Kelly said. "I know he needs to certainly consult with NASA management on that. He's a pretty logical guy and very thoughtful and will certainly weigh all the different considerations when making this decision."
Scott Kelly said he and his brother had discussed the tough call about the spaceflight, which will be Mark's last chance to fly again on a space shuttle since NASA's three-orbiter fleet retire this year.
Mark Kelly has already made three previous space shuttle voyages."We do talk about it and we have talked about the different considerations," Scott Kelly said. "I'm confident he's going to make a good decision, and whichever decision he chooses I'll support him."