With Mark Kelly about to command the last mission of the space shuttle Endeavor, I wanted to write a bit about their journey, as a follow-up to my January post on their situations and the stress related to it.
As we all know, on January 8th, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona astronaut Mark Kelly's and his wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' lives were turned topsy turvy. This dynamic and loving couple were at the peak of their careers. Instead, they were then faced by both a life-threatening violent injury and a seemingly impossible choice about his commitments and dreams. For Kelly, this was about whether to stay consistently by his wife's side, or to continue towards a lifetime opportunity as commander of the Shuttle Endeavor's last flight. Not an enviable situation.
Fast forward to late April. It is now Tuesday and Endeavor is on the launch pad. The precious cosmic ray detector payload, which is to be fixed on the exterior of the International Space Station, has been loaded and the payload bay doors closed. Lift-off is less than three days away. Commander Mark Kelly and his crew of five are in the usual pre-launch quarantine and the count-down has begun. The excitement grows with a mixture of nervousness and pride. This launch would have been noteworthy without the added attention of the Kelly-Giffords storyline. Dignitaries including the Obamas are beginning to arrive.
In the space community, it was always understood that Mark Kelly would make the decision to go ahead with his mission. As Kelly put it,
"You've got to make a determination whether ...is this something you think is worthwhile? And the way I do that is I've got to look at what's the personal risk to me and what's the reward to our nation in doing this? I think the space shuttle program and human space flight in general provides a great deal for our country."
This is the result of his analysis and conclusion of the overall dilemma he and his wife were facing. Not least in his decision was his wife's health status. We have heard about Representative Giffords' determination, and results in her recovery, no doubt influenced by her wish to see her husband's dream fulfilled. Her improvement made Commander Kelly's decision significantly easier.
On her side, knowing how much this mission meant to her husband, Gabrielle Giffords was going to do everything in her power to make it possible. She made his launch her motivation to recover faster. This meant that not only did she have to overcome great odds to survive, but to go a leap further by declaring early on that she wanted to be present for the launch. Setting such a seemingly insurmountable, but relatively short term goal, gave her the determination during an otherwise long and slow journey to recovery. It was a tangible target. Imagine how much slower her recovery would have been if there was no pressing target for which to reach? From a rehabilitation point of view her desire to support her husband and to be at the launch may have been the best thing that could have happened to her.
Representative Giffords and Mark Kelly show us how, when you assess your situation (even when it is utterly traumatic) and decide on a position you intend to aim for, much is possible.
As Endeavor is making her final launch before retiring, may she and her crew travel safely, and may the story of Commander Kelly and Representative Giffords serve to inspire.