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Astronaut Mark Kelly adapts to role as caregiver for his wife

Astronaut Mark Kelly gives an inspirational lecture at San Jacinto College in Texas.

Photo:Andrea Vasquez/SJC

​Astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly used to think his job was more dangerous than that of his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“As Gabby entered Congress in 2007, I thought that I had the risky job,” Kelly this week during a lecture at San Jacinto College in Texas. “I’d flown two flights into space and 39 combat missions by that point, but she was the one that would nearly lose her life serving her country.”

Kelly talked about his experiences in space and recalled some of his first missions among his total of 50 days in space. The retired U.S. Navy captain and aviator also engaged the audience recounting several of the 39 combat missions he flew during the Gulf War.

A new way of life

Kelly’s story about the day Giffords was shot in Arizona last year and the experiences they’ve shared on her road to recovery sent a message of hope and inspiration. He described having to take on his new role as caregiver and the immediate challenges it presented.

Relying on his decision-making background in the Navy and at NASA, Kelly began making the best choices he could when it came to Giffords’ care. He noted that even though she was the one in recovery, she was still teaching him valuable lessons in patience and perseverance.

“The power of the human spirit is an incredible thing, watching the woman that I love fight so hard to survive, then fight so hard to come back,” Kelly said. “She reminds me every day to deny the acceptance of failure.”

Though Kelly has had numerous professional successes in his career, his beginnings weren’t so promising. Prior to high school, his grades weren’t necessarily that of an astronaut, Kelly said. Upon entering high school, he began to focus more and his grades improved. He set his career goals as a naval aviator, but even then he was still not intially considered top notch.

'Be your best' 

Kelly encouraged students in the audience to keep trying to reach their goals, despite everyone else’s pace.

“I’m a strong believer that how good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not a good indicator of how good you can become,” he said. “I’m a prime example of somebody that was able to overcome a lack of aptitude with practice, persistence and the drive to never ever give up.”

In closing, Kelly said that he was given a message to deliver to the audience from Giffords, who now suffers from aphasia due to her injuries after the shooting. The message read: “Be patient. Be courageous. Be strong. Be your best.”

Honors student Leslie Eaton was inspired and touched by Kelly’s presentation.

“I am just amazed at how strong they both have been through everything,” Eaton said. “It’s very touching that he shared their story with all of us. It’s also a little comforting to know that he wasn’t always the best at everything when he first started his career. It lets students know that if you keep trying, you’ll get there.”