National Press Club

Astronaut Kelly shrugs off political rumors; NASA Administrator Bolden says U.S. will lead in space

July 1, 2011 | By Heather Forsgren Weaver |

Astronaut Mark Kelly

Astronaut Mark Kelly

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Astronaut Mark Kelly, commander of the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, tamped down rumors that he would follow his wounded wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., into politics.

“She’s the politician in the family. I am the space guy and I see no reason to change that now,” Kelly said at a National Press Club luncheon July 1, where he joined NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr.

Kelly announced June 21 that he plans to retire from the U.S. Navy and NASA Oct. 1 to focus on Giffords’ recovery from a January gunshot to the head. Six people also died and 12 others were wounded in the shooting at Tucson, Ariz., supermarket.

Following Bolden’s remarks and the customary question period, Kelly made a brief statement about his recent experience commanding the final flight of Endeavour but gave no clue as to Giffords recovery or his future. There has been widespread speculation he might run for Giffords’ congressional seat or the open Senate seat in Arizona.

Both Kelly and Bolden focused their remarks on America’s space leadership following the planned July 8 final mission of space shuttle Atlantis.

“So Atlantis heads off on its final mission, we can all be a little sad," Kelly said.
"That’s OK. I will be a little sad. But also know that NASA will open a new and exciting chapter. We’re going to continue to inspire our children and we’re going to continue to be a great investment for the American people."

Bolden was encouraged to join the astronaut corps by Ronald McNair, who died on space shuttle Challenger in 1986.

“Some of my best friends died on the shuttle and I am not about to let human space flight go away on my watch,” he said. “I’m not going to let it flounder because we pursued a path that we could not sustain. It’s vital that we keep exploring.”

Bolden, who flew on four space shuttle missions, stressed many times during his prepared remarks and during the question and answer session that human space exploration was not ending.

“Some say that our final space shuttle mission will mark the end of our 50-year dominance in human space flight,” he said. “As a former astronaut and the current NASA administrator, I’m here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least, at least, the next half century because we have laid the foundation for success -- and for us at NASA, failure is not an option.”

The Club in partnership with Harris Corp. is hosting a viewing event of the final space shuttle launch scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday, July 8, in the First Amendment Lounge.