The astronaut husband of injured US politician Gabrielle Giffords is set to announce whether he will fly on space shuttle Endeavour’s final voyage.
Mark Kelly will take part in a press conference on Friday afternoon at Johnson Space Centre in Houston, and analysts believe his involvement in the briefing – rather than the astronaut who has been standing in for him in training – indicates Mr Kelly has decided to fly in April.
His identical twin Scott, the current commander of the International Space Station, hinted in an interview this week that his brother would choose to fly.
Mark Kelly took leave from training after Ms Giffords was gunned down at a shopping centre in Tucson, Arizona, in early January. She has been undergoing rehab in Houston for the past two weeks.
Mr Kelly has spent the weeks since the shooting debating whether to step down as commander of Endeavour’s two-week mission, and in the meantime back-up commander Rick Sturckow joined the crew in training.
But the fact that Mr Sturckow is not listed for the press conference is telling and indicates that Mr Kelly will launch as scheduled, said Howard McCurdy, a public policy professor and space expert at the American University in Washington.
And because it will be one of the last two shuttle launches, and because of the drama behind the shooting of his wife, Endeavour’s mission will receive strong global attention, Mr McCurdy added.
“We all want her to go back to Congress; we’d like them both to continue their careers and we’d like them to be whole and normal as if this thing had never happened,” he added.
Speaking in an interview from the space station this week, Scott Kelly said of his brother’s decision: “If he does choose, and Nasa management chooses, for him to fly this mission… I am absolutely 100% confident that he will have no problem fulfilling his responsibilities the same way as if this incident would have never occurred.”