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Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabrielle Giffords, retires from Navy

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Thu October 6, 2011
Navy Capt. Mark Kelly hugs his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, after receiving the Legion of Merit from Vice President Joe Biden during his retirement ceremony Thursday in Washington.
Navy Capt. Mark Kelly hugs his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, after receiving the Legion of Merit from Vice President Joe Biden during his retirement ceremony Thursday in Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Captain formally retired from the U.S. Navy on Saturday
  • Vice President Biden presides over formal retirement ceremony
  • Kelly's wife, Gabrielle Giffords, shot last January, takes part in the event
  • The ex-astronaut says Giffords reminds him not to accept failure

Washington (CNN) -- Rep. Gabrielle Giffords joined about 50 dignitaries and family members Thursday in Washington to mark the retirement of her husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, from the U.S. Navy.

Kelly, 47,enlisted the military in 1987 and served as a combat and test pilot before joining the U.S. space program. He was part of space shuttle flights in 2001 and 2006, and then commanded ones in 2008 and again in May.

The last one took place several months after Giffords was among 13 people wounded in a shooting at a constituent event outside a Tucson, Arizona, supermarket. Six others -- including a federal judge and a child -- were killed.

Since then, the Arizona Democrat has been mostly out of the public eye and in intense rehabilitation in Arizona and Texas. One exception, prior to Thursday, was her August 1 return to the Capitol to cast a vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling.

She attended Thursday's event inside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, located next to the West Wing of the White House, along with her congressional chief of staff, Pia Carusone, plus her and Kelly's mothers and his two teenage daughters from a previous marriage.

Sporting glasses, black pants, running shoes and a brace on her right hand, Giffords smiled as she entered to prolonged applause and sat in the front row.

Kelly officially retired from the Navy on Saturday. Thursday's event to commemorate the occasion was attended by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and several other members of Congress.

At one point, Giffords helped present her husband with the Legion of Merit and Distinguishing Flying Cross medals, in honor of his fourth space shuttle mission.

Vice President Joe Biden presided over the ceremony, attaching a Legion of Merit pin to Kelly's jacket and later offering remarks.

"It's not every day you encounter examples of sheer, sheer courage and selflessness and dedication like you see in this couple," he said of Giffords and Kelly.

Kelly also spoke, extending thanks to those who have offered their "boundless friendship and optimism" over the past eight, trying months. And he made a plea for NASA to "remain a permanent part of the fabric of this great country."

The former astronaut gave flowers to his daughters and wife, then addressed her in front of the crowd.

"Gabby, you remind me every day to deny the acceptance of failure," he said. "I look forward to the next phase of our life together and watching all of your future achievements."

Kelly announced his retirement in June, writing then on his Facebook page that he wanted to devote more time to helping Giffords recover from her injuries and spend more time with his daughters.

"This was not an easy decision. Public service has been more than a job for me and for my family," he wrote.

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