Mark Kelly

Mark Edward Kelly (born February 21, 1964) is an American astronaut, engineer, and former U.S. Navy captain. He is the author of multiple books as well as an aerospace executive and consultant.

Mark Kelly
Official NASA photo of Kelly
Personal details
Mark Edward Kelly

(1964-02-21) February 21, 1964 (age 56)
Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyIndependent (before 2018)[1]
Democratic (2018–present)[1]
Amelia Babis
(m. 1989; div. 2004)

Gabby Giffords (m. 2007)
RelativesScott Kelly (twin brother)
EducationUnited States Merchant Marine Academy (BS)
Naval Postgraduate School (MS)
Space career
NASA Astronaut
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Captain, USN
Time in space
54d 02h 04min
SelectionNASA Astronaut Group 16, 1996
MissionsSTS-108, STS-121, STS-124, STS-134
Mission insignia
STS-108 Patch.svg STS-121 patch.svg STS-124 patch.svg STS-134 Patch.svg
RetirementOctober 1, 2011[2]

A naval aviator, Kelly flew combat missions during the Gulf War before being selected as a NASA Space Shuttle pilot in 1996. He flew his first mission in 2001 as pilot of STS-108, piloted STS-121 in 2006, and commanded STS-124 in 2008 and STS-134 in 2011, the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour.[3] Kelly's identical twin Scott Kelly is also an astronaut; the two are the only siblings to have both traveled in space.[4][5]

Kelly's wife, then-U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, was shot and nearly killed in an attempted assassination on January 8, 2011. After the shooting, in which six people were killed, she and Kelly were thrust into the media spotlight.[6][7] Kelly and Giffords spent their political energy on the topic of gun control before Kelly decided to pursue elected office. He is the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2020 United States Senate special election in Arizona.

Early life and educationEdit

Mark Edward Kelly[8] is the son of Richard and Patricia (née McAvoy) Kelly, two retired police officers.[9][10] He is of Irish descent.[11] He was born on February 21, 1964, in Orange, New Jersey, and raised in West Orange, New Jersey. Kelly graduated from Mountain High School in 1982. He received a Bachelor of Science in marine engineering and nautical science from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, graduating with highest honors in 1986. In 1994, he received a Master of Science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.[12]

Naval careerEdit

In December 1987, Kelly became a naval aviator and received initial training on the A-6E Intruder attack aircraft. He was then assigned to Attack Squadron 115 (VA-115) in Atsugi, Japan, and made two deployments to the Persian Gulf on the aircraft carrier USS Midway, flying 39 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm. After receiving his master's degree, Kelly attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School from 1993 to 1994. He has logged more than 5,000 hours in more than 50 different aircraft and has over 375 carrier landings.[12]

Kelly has received two Defense Superior Service Medals; one Legion of Merit; two Distinguished Flying Crosses; four Air Medals (two individual/two strike flight) with Combat "V"; two Navy Commendation Medals, (one with combat "V"); one Navy Achievement Medal; two Southwest Asia Service Medals; one Navy Expeditionary Medal; two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons; a NASA Distinguished Service Medal; and an Overseas Service Ribbon.[12][13]

On June 21, 2011, Kelly announced his retirement from the U.S. Navy and NASA, effective October 1, 2011. His retirement was announced on his Facebook page, where he wrote, "Words cannot convey my deep gratitude for the opportunities I have been given to serve our great nation. From the day I entered the United States Merchant Marine Academy in the summer of 1982 to the moment I landed the Space Shuttle Endeavour three weeks ago, it has been my privilege to advance the ideals that define the United States of America."[14]

NASA careerEdit

NASA selected both Mark and Scott Kelly to be Space Shuttle pilots in 1996. They joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in August of that year. Mark Kelly has logged over 54 days in space.[12] During his 2006 flight on Space Shuttle Discovery, the second mission after the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, Kelly discussed the risks of flying the Space Shuttle:

The Space Shuttle's a very complex machine. It's got a lot of moving parts that move and operate at pretty much the limit of what we've been able to engineer. Spaceflight is risky. I think with regards to the tank, we've reduced some of the risk there. We've changed the design a little bit and we've made some pretty big strides in trying to get foam not to shed from the tank anymore. So there is some risk reduction there and I guess overall the risk is probably a little less. But this is a risky business, but it's got a big reward. Everybody on board Discovery and the space station here thinks it's worthwhile.[15]

Spaceflight experienceEdit


STS-108 Commander Dominic L. Gorie and Pilot Mark Kelly, in their stations during rendezvous operations with the International Space Station

Kelly's first trip into space was as pilot of STS-108. After several delays, Endeavour lifted off on December 5, 2001, on the final Shuttle mission of 2001.[16]

STS-108 Endeavour visited the ISS, delivering over three tons of equipment, supplies, and a fresh crew to the orbiting outpost.[12] The hatches were opened between Endeavour and the ISS Destiny Laboratory on December 7, enabling the 10 crew members to greet one another. The Expedition 3 crew officially ended their 117-day residency on board the ISS on December 8 as their custom Soyuz seat-liners were transferred to Endeavour for the return trip home. The transfer of the Expedition 4 seat-liners to the Soyuz return vehicle attached to the station marked the official exchange of crews.[16]

Kelly and Mission Specialist Linda Godwin used the shuttle's robotic arm to lift the Raffaello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module from the shuttle payload bay and attach it to a berth on the station's Unity node. The crews began unloading supplies the same day. Mission managers extended Endeavour's flight duration to 12 days to allow the crew to assist with additional maintenance tasks on the station, including work on a treadmill and replacing a failed compressor in one of the air conditioners in the Zvezda Service Module. A change of command ceremony took place on December 13 as Expedition 3 ended and Expedition 4 began. STS-108 returned to Earth with the previous ISS crew of three men.[16]

Kelly traveled over 4.8 million miles and orbited the Earth 186 times over 11 days and 19+ hours.[16]


Kelly (center) surrounded by Piers J. Sellers (right), Michael E. Fossum (left), cosmonaut Pavel V. Vinogradov[17] (center left) and Stephanie D. Wilson (center right)

In July 2006, Kelly piloted STS-121 Discovery, the second "Return to Flight" mission following the loss of Columbia in February 2003. Because of weather delays, STS-121 became the first shuttle mission to launch on the Fourth of July.[18]

The mission's main purposes were to test new safety and repair techniques introduced after the Columbia disaster and to deliver supplies, equipment, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter from Germany to the ISS. Reiter's transfer returned the ISS to a three-member staffing level.[19]

During the STS-121 mission to the ISS, the crew of Discovery continued to test new equipment and procedures for the inspection and repair of the thermal protection system that is designed to increase the shuttles' safety. It also delivered more supplies and cargo for future ISS expansion.

After the Columbia accident, NASA decided that two test flights would be required and that activities originally assigned to STS-114 would need to be divided into two missions because of the addition of post-Columbia safety tests.[19]

Gabrielle Giffords, Kelly's girlfriend at the time, picked one of the mission's wake-up songs, U2's "Beautiful Day".[20]

Kelly traveled over 5.28 million miles and orbited the Earth 202 times over 12 days and 18+ hours.[12]


Commander Kelly with his crew at the Kennedy Space Center just prior to boarding the shuttle

STS-124 Discovery was Kelly's first mission as commander. A month before liftoff, he discussed what being a shuttle commander entailed and how it was different from his previous missions:

My first two flights I was the pilot. Being the commander is different in that you're responsible for the overall mission. ... You have to worry about the whole thing, the training drill your other crew members are getting, mission success, and mission safety. So it is a more comprehensive job and requires more time. I'm really a little bit surprised at how much more there is to it. But I think it's more rewarding as well.[21]

The mission was the second of three shuttle missions to carry components of Japan's Kibo laboratory to the ISS. Kibo is Japanese for "hope". The laboratory is Japan's primary contribution to the ISS.[22]

Just before liftoff, Kelly said, "While we've all prepared for this event today, the discoveries from Kibo will definitely offer hope for tomorrow. Now stand by for the greatest show on Earth."[23]

During the launch, Launch Pad 39A sustained substantial damage, more than had been seen on any previous launch. After liftoff, inspectors discovered that bricks and mortar from the launch pad's base had been thrown as far as the perimeter fence, a distance of 1,500 feet (457 m).[24]

Kelly and his crew delivered the pressurized module for Kibo to the ISS. The module is the Kibo laboratory's largest component and the station's largest habitable module.[22] Discovery also delivered Kibo's Remote Manipulator System.[22] Perhaps the most important part it delivered was a replacement part for the station's toilet. The ISS's toilet had been malfunctioning for a week, creating a potentially serious problem for the crew.[25] When Kelly first entered the station, he joked, "You looking for a plumber?"[25]

This mission was the first time a spouse of a member of Congress traveled to space.[26] Kelly traveled over 5.7 million miles, and orbited the Earth 218 times over 13 days and 18 hours.[12]


Mission poster, based on a Star Trek promotional poster[27]

STS-134 launched on May 16, 2011.

On April 29, 2011, the first launch attempt of STS-134 was scrubbed. Giffords traveled to Florida on her first trip since moving from Tucson to Houston in January after an attempted assassination. Her appearance at Kennedy Space Center gave the launch a high profile, "one of the most anticipated in years," according to The New York Times. President Obama visited the Kennedy Space Center on April 29 on a trip with the original intention of watching the Endeavour launch.[28]

Kelly was the commander of the mission which was Space Shuttle Endeavour's last. His crew and he delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS.[29]

Most of the mission's delays were caused by external tank issues on STS-133 Discovery.[30] When Scott Kelly went to the ISS on October 7, 2010, STS-134 was scheduled to go to the station during his mission. The potential rendezvous in space of the Kelly brothers would have been a first meeting of blood relatives in space.[31] The delay of STS-134's launch ended that possibility.

After his wife's shooting, Mark Kelly's status was unclear, but NASA announced on February 4, 2011, that he would remain commander of the mission. The remarkable progress his wife was making in her recovery helped Kelly decide to return to training.[32] Peggy Whitson, chief of the NASA Astronaut Office at the time, said, "we are confident in his ability to successfully lead this mission, and I know I speak for all of NASA in saying 'welcome back.'"[33]

Papal blessingEdit

At 4 pm PDT on May 22, the European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency arranged for a call to Endeavour by Pope Benedict XVI. During his call—prompted by the discovery of a gash in the Shuttle's fuselage—Benedict extended his blessing to Giffords, who had undergone skull surgery earlier in the week. The event marked the first time a pope spoke to astronauts during a mission.[34][35]


On June 24, 2011, a recorded message by Kelly from the ISS wished his wife love using song lyrics from David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and introduced U2's song "Beautiful Day" on the first night of the Glastonbury festival in England. A similar message from Kelly aboard the ISS was played during U2's 360° Tour concert stop at various locations. It said: "I'm looking forward to coming home. Tell my wife I love her very much. She knows."[36]

Retirement from NASAEdit

On June 21, 2011, Kelly announced that he would leave NASA's astronaut corps and the U.S. Navy effective October 1. He cited Giffords's needs during her recovery as a reason for his retirement.[2]

Post-NASA careerEdit


In 2011, Kelly and Giffords coauthored Gabby: A Story of Courage, Love and Resilience. The book provides biographical information on the couple and describes in detail the assassination attempt on Giffords and her initial recovery. Written in Kelly's voice, it includes a short note by Giffords at the end.[37]

Kelly's second book, Mousetronaut: Based on a (Partially) True Story (2012), is a children's book illustrated by C. F. Payne.[38] It was a New York Times number one bestseller[39] and was followed the next year by a sequel, Mousetronaut Goes to Mars.[40]

In 2014, Giffords and Kelly coauthored Enough: Our Fight to Keep America Safe from Gun Violence.[41]

In 2015, Kelly and Martha Freeman cowrote Astrotwins: Project Blastoff, a fictional story about twins Scott and Mark who build a space capsule in their grandfather's backyard and try to send the first kid into orbit. Kelly dedicated this book to Scott Kelly.[42] The sequel, Astrotwins—Project Rescue, was published in 2016.[43]

Aerospace workEdit

Kelly is co-founder and strategic advisor of Tucson-based near-space exploration company World View Enterprises.[44]

On March 28, 2012, SpaceX announced that Kelly would be part of an independent safety advisory panel composed of leading human spaceflight safety experts.[45]

Political activismEdit

In January 2013, Kelly and Giffords started a political action committee, Americans for Responsible Solutions. The organization's mission is to promote solutions to gun violence with elected officials and the general public. The couple say it supports the Second Amendment while promoting responsible gun ownership and "keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill."[46] The group claims that "current gun laws allow private sellers to sell guns without a background check, creating a loophole that provides criminals and the mentally ill easy access to guns".[46] On March 31, 2013, Kelly said, "any bill that does not include a universal background check is a mistake. It's the most common-sense thing we can do to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from having access to weapons."[47] In 2016, Americans for Responsible Solutions joined the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and launched a joint organization known as "Giffords".[48]

2020 U.S. Senate special election in ArizonaEdit

Kelly at the launch of his U.S. Senate campaign in downtown Phoenix in February 2019.

On February 12, 2019, Kelly announced that he would run as a Democrat in the 2020 United States Senate special election in Arizona.[49] He is running for the Senate seat held by another combat veteran, Republican Martha McSally, who was appointed to it shortly after losing a Senate election to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema; the seat was vacated upon the resignation of a previous Republican gubernatorial appointee, Jon Kyl.[49] McSally is the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2020 election to serve the final two years of the late John McCain's term. McCain was reelected in 2016 and died in 2018.[50]

A May 2020 average of polls showed Kelly leading McSally by 9%.[51]

Personal lifeEdit

Kelly married Amelia Victoria Babis on January 7, 1989. They divorced in 2004. They have two daughters, Claudia and Claire Kelly.[52]

Kelly and wife Gabrielle Giffords in 2016

Kelly married U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords of Tucson, Arizona, on November 10, 2007, in a ceremony presided over by Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, and attended by his STS-124 shuttle crew and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Reich toasted: "To a bride who moves at a velocity that exceeds that of anyone else in Washington, and a groom who moves at a velocity that exceeds 17,000 miles per hour."[20] The couple met on a 2003 trip to China as part of a trade mission sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations.[53]

At the time of their marriage, Kelly lived in Houston,[54] and said that the longest stretch of time the two had spent together was a couple of weeks. He said that they did not plan to always live that way, but that it was what they were used to. He added, "It teaches you not to sweat the small stuff."[20]

Shooting in TucsonEdit

Giffords was shot in an assassination attempt on January 8, 2011,[55] putting Kelly in the national spotlight. On February 4, Kelly described the previous month as the hardest time of his life[56] and expressed his gratitude for the enormous outpouring of support, good wishes and prayers for his wife. He said that he believed people's prayers for her helped.[57]

One of Giffords's aides informed Kelly of the shooting almost immediately after it happened. He flew from Houston to Tucson with members of his family. En route, the Kellys received an erroneous news report that Giffords had died. "The kids, Claudia and Claire, started crying. My mother, she almost screamed. I just walked into the bathroom, and, you know, broke down." Calling family in Tucson, Kelly found out that the report was false and that she was alive and in surgery. "It was a terrible mistake," Kelly said. "As bad as it was that she had died, it's equally exciting that she hadn't."[58]

From the time he arrived in Tucson, Kelly sat vigil at his wife's bedside as she struggled to survive and began to recover. As her condition began to improve, the Kelly-Giffords family researched options for rehabilitation facilities and chose one in Houston. On January 21, Giffords was transferred to the Memorial Hermann–Texas Medical Center,[59] where she spent five days before moving to TIRR Memorial Hermann, where she continued her recovery and rehabilitation.[60]

Giffords and Kelly had spoken dozens of times about how risky her job was. She was afraid that someone with a gun would come up to her at a public event. In an interview filmed just over a week after the shooting, Kelly said, "She has Tombstone, Arizona, in her district, the town that's too tough to die. Gabrielle Giffords is too tough to let this beat her."[58]


Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the Tucson memorial service

A memorial service for those killed was held on January 12, 2011, at the University of Arizona. President Barack Obama flew to Tucson to speak at the memorial. Kelly sat between First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the previous governor of Arizona. At the end of the service, Obama consoled and embraced him, after which Kelly returned to the hospital to be with his wife.[61]

Kelly spoke on February 3, 2011, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. His remarks closed the event, where Obama also spoke. Kelly said the attack on his wife brought him closer to God and gave him a newfound awareness regarding prayer. He said that before the attack, "I thought the world just spins and the clock just ticks and things happen for no particular reason", but that, in Tucson, as he found himself wandering in makeshift memorials and shrines filled with Bibles and angels, "You pray where you are. You pray when God is there in your heart."[62] Kelly offered the final prayer of the morning. The prayer was from Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, who married Kelly and Giffords, and who said the same words over Giffords on the night of the shooting:

In the name of God, our God of Israel, may Michael, God's angel messenger of compassion, watch over your right side. May Gabriel, God's angel messenger of strength and courage, be on your left. And before you, guiding your path, Uriel, God's angel of light and behind you, supporting you, stands Raphael, God's angel of healing. And over your head, surrounding you, is the presence of the Divine.[62]

In 2011, Kelly said he believed there was a chance to change a political environment he believed was too vitriolic. He hoped that the tragedy would be an opportunity to improve the tone of the national dialogue and cool down the rhetoric.[58] In response to a question on February 4, 2011, about civility in politics, Kelly said, "I haven't spent a lot of time following that, but I think that with something that was so horrible and so negative, and the fact that six people lost their lives including a nine-year-old girl, a federal judge, Gabby's staff member Gabe—who was like a younger brother to her—it's really, really a sad situation. I am hopeful that something positive can come out of it. I think that will happen, so those are good things."[57]

Awards and decorationsEdit

   Naval Pilot Astronaut Badge

Defense Superior Service Medal (with oak leaf cluster)
  Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (with one award star)
Air Medal (with valor device and three award stars)
Navy Commendation Medal (with valor device and service star)
  Navy Achievement Medal
Navy Unit Commendation (with award star)
  NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal
  NASA Exceptional Service Medal
NASA Space Flight Medal (with three award stars)
  Navy Expeditionary Medal
Southwest Asia Service Medal (with service star)
National Defense Service Medal (with service star)
Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (with service star)
  Overseas Service Ribbon
  Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
  Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)
Navy Rifle Marksmanship Medal


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