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The man keeping vigil at the bedside  of his wife, wounded Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is himself an authentic American hero.

Mark Kelly,46, is from a West Orange,New Jersey Irish American family,a former member of the Irish America magazine top 100 and a devoted husband and father. He has a twin brother Scott who is also an astronaut.

His parents, Richard and Patricia Kelly moved from West Orange to Texas to be nearer their twin astronaut sons. Their Irish roots are in Cork and Kerry.

The twins were about to achieve a remarkable piece of American history in April.

Kelly is scheduled to lead the last shuttle mission ever to the International Space Station in April where his brother, Scott is currently  one of the crew members. 

It will be one of the most high profile flight missions in history, marking the end of the space shuttle program.

Whether Kelly can make it now as his wife recovers from a dreadful gunshot wound is hard to say.
He immediately flew to her bedside and was comforted by among others, President Obama who called him directly to commiserate.

Ironically, it was Gifford who was always desperately worried about her husband when he was flying . “You have to be strong and detach yourself from what could happen,”  Giffords said in an interview last fall in the Daily Beast about their unusual relationship. She said  lift-off was “a combination of excitement and fear,” and an “awesome experience.” She said launch and re-entry were the toughest times for her.

On his last voyage, Gifford gave Kelly her wedding ring, which he had inscribed with the words, ”You’re the closest to heaven that I’ve ever been.”

Before each space flight Kelly explained to Daily Beast they exchange intimate letters that are ”very serious, honest, open, and straight from the heart."

Giffords always writes to her husband before takeoff telling him how much she loves him, She was set to attend his launch in April and  she confessed, “I’m always on pins and needles wondering, will this be the last conversation I am going to have with my husband?

Now give the awful tragedy that befell her, the roles will be reversed as Mark Kelly waits at her bedside.

The couple met on a trade mission in 2003 to China but he was still married to his first wife and she was seeing someone else. They stayed in touch and she advised him on dating . Their own first date, a year later, was an unusual one when she took him around a prison in Florence, Arizona, as she was working on death penalty issues and he got to sit in the electric chair.

Kelly, 46, has flown on the shuttle three times since joining NASA in 1996 and April would be his fourth flight.

He  was selected by NASA for the astronaut  program in April 1996 and  reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1996.

He was the  pilot on shuttle flights in 2001 and 2006 and was named the shuttle commander for a 2008 mission. Overall he has logged 388 days in space, one of the longest of any serving astronaut in American history.

His final flight is set to  deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer  a state-of-the-art cosmic ray particle physics detector designed to examine fundamental issues about matter and the origin and structure of the universe.

Prior to joining NASA, Kelly graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in June 1986 and was designated a Naval Aviator in December 1987. He flew 39 combat mission in operation Desert Storm.He was a naval pilot instructor when selected for the astronaut program in Texas.

Now as he keeps vigil by his wife's bedside on his toughest mission yet he knows the prayers of a nation are with him.

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