NASA Names Backup Shuttle Commander for Gifford’s Husband

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and her husband, space shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly, are seen in an undated handout photo provided by her Congressional campaign, January 8, 2011. Giffords was hit in a shooting on Saturday at a public event of the Congresswoman's at a Tucson, Arizona grocery store that also injured at least nine other people, hospital and law enforcement sources said. REUTERS/Giffords for Congress/PK Weis/Handout

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Jan 13 (KATAKAMI / VOA) — The U.S. space agency says it has appointed a backup commander for its upcoming April mission to the International Space Station, while the mission’s original leader tends to his wife, who was shot in the head Saturday.

In a statement Thursday, Astronaut Mark Kelly said he was “hopeful” he would be able to rejoin the mission with space shuttle Endeavor.

It is currently slotted as the final mission for NASA’s 30-year shuttle program.

Kelly’s wife, congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is recovering after being shot in an apparent assassination attempt.

NASA said Kelly remains in charge of the mission, but said designating a backup would allow the mission crew and support team to continue training in Kelly’s absence.

Meanwhile, NASA also announced new launch dates for the two remaining shuttle missions, after several delays prompted by problems with space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank.

NASA announced it plans to launch Discovery on February 24 and said it is targeting April 19 for Endeavor’s launch.

NASA cancelled a planned launch attempt in early November when a hydrogen leak led them to discover cracks in some of the metal supports of Discovery’s fuel tank.

Although these are the final scheduled missions, NASA has said another flight could be added mid-year, before the fleet is set to retire. (*)

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