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Backup shuttle commander named for wounded congresswoman's husband

By the CNN Wire Staff
President Obama hugs astronaut Mark Kelly during a memorial to Kelly's wife Wednesday in Tucson, Arizona.
President Obama hugs astronaut Mark Kelly during a memorial to Kelly's wife Wednesday in Tucson, Arizona.
  • Astronaut Mark Kelly remains the Endeavor commander
  • The backup astronaut will allow others to train while Kelly is away
  • Commander Kelly has been with his wife since the day she was shot
  • Kelly's shuttle mission is set to launch on April 19, 2011

(CNN) -- NASA named a backup shuttle commander for astronaut Mark Kelly, who is the husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and was scheduled to lead an April Endeavour space mission before his wife was shot.

Kelly, a veteran shuttle astronaut, has been at his wife's hospital bedside, where she is recovering from last Saturday's assassination attempt at a Tucson, Arizona, grocery store.

He remains commander of the STS-134 shuttle mission, which is set for an April 19 launch, but astronaut Rick Sturckow will serve as a backup commander "to facilitate continued training for the crew and support teams" while Kelly is away, NASA said Thursday.

"I recommended to my management that we take steps now to prepare to complete the mission in my absence, if necessary," Kelly said in a written statement released by the space agency. "I am very hopeful that I will be in a position to rejoin my STS-134 crew members to finish our training."

Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office, said Kelly is "facing many uncertainties now as he supports Gabrielle," and naming a backup "enables Mark to focus on his wife's care."

"Our goal is to allow him to keep his undistracted attention on his family while allowing preparations for the mission to progress," Whitson said.

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