| 3°C Dublin

Giffords will see husband's space launch

Looking back on the horror of that Saturday in January, it seems miraculous today that Mark Kelly would command the next-to-last space shuttle flight and that his wounded wife, Gabrielle Giffords, would be in Florida watching.

Yet that is what is expected to happen on Friday.

The Kelly-Giffords ordeal has been a national drama in the US since January 8, when the congresswoman was shot in the head at a meet-and-greet in Arizona.

The couple's love story -- her struggle to survive a serious brain injury and her remarkable progress, and his devotion to both his wife and NASA -- has overshadowed Endeavour's final voyage and the looming end of the shuttle programme.

"They're America's sweethearts," said Susan Still Kilrain, a former space shuttle pilot.

On Friday, Endeavour's scheduled 7.47 pm blastoff will be a big draw for tourists on Florida's Space Coast.

The Obama family will be there, as will a congressional contingent and an estimated 40,000 other NASA guests.


Plus, hundreds of thousands are expected to jam surrounding beaches and roadways.

No one, it seems, can resist the real-life drama surrounding the astronaut (47) and the congresswoman (40), married just three years when a bullet changed everything. The shooting rampage outside a supermarket left six dead and 13 injured, including Giffords.

For several weeks, Kelly didn't know whether he would fly the April mission or whether the flight might be delayed. A back-up commander stepped in to keep up the training momentum.

But as the days went by, Giffords made steady progress. After a month-long leave, Kelly returned to work in February at Johnson Space Center, bringing his wife with him to Houston for rehab.

Almost certainly, Giffords will be kept out of public sight at the launch, as she has been ever since the shooting occurred. Her husband will face the cameras when he arrives tomorrow with his crew at Kennedy Space Center.