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April 18, 2024

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Spring Housing Guide

Astronaut Mark Kelly shares his story

The University hosted Mark Kelly, a former Navy pilot and astronaut, to speak for the Ordinary People, Extraordinary People series of events in the Union Ballroom.

The room was full of attendees on Tuesday to hear Kelly share his story about his time in the Navy, his career as an astronaut and the injury and following recovery of his wife, Congress member Gabrielle Giffords, interspersed with humor and advice for the audience.

The event started with words from Sara Bushong, the dean of the University Libraries.

Following Bushong was President Mazey, who thanked those responsible for the event and introduced Christina Williams, University alumna and journalist for Channel 13ABC.

She introduced a short video that featured Mark Kelly on the International Space Station.

Then, Mark Kelly was called up on stage. People in the audience, full of students, community members and professors, seemed ready to pay attention.

“I really enjoyed it. There was a good mix of seriousness and comedy,” Ryan Karle, AYA integrated social studies major, said. “I had professional development to do, and I thought this would be interesting … to hear his story.”

Kelly summarized his career first, listing his start driving an ambulance in Newark, New Jersey, his time as a Navy pilot and his four NASA missions that added up to 50 days in space.

He also said he had aspirations to “be the first person to Mars” while he was in high school, but he never achieved that dream.

However, he is not the only member of his family to have an extraordinary life; his mother was one of the first female police officers in New Jersey and his wife, Giffords, was a Fulbright scholar and a Congress member.

Giffords was also the target of a mass shooting and recovered from being shot in the head.

Kelly said success was about “practice and persistence” and that “effort counts twice,” which were things he learned from his mother.

Learning to be a Navy pilot was a big challenge for him, and he had to work hard to get good at it.

He also spoke about his first combat mission after enlisting within the Navy as a pilot — at that point, he had become experienced in flying.

He and his partner flew into Iraq airspace, and after barely escaping two missiles and successfully hitting their target, Kelly decided to fly home through Iran airspace without telling his base.

This resulted in another close call for Kelly, because his plane was mistaken as an enemy aircraft.

“One thing I learned that night, over Iran, was there is never an excuse for not communicating with the people you work with,” Kelly said. “Timely and accurate communication is so important in everything we all do.”

He followed this story with one about Giffords, who was elected into Congress in 2007 for Arizona.

In 2011, Giffords was doing a “Congress on your corner” talk at a local grocery store when she was shot in the head by a gunman while six other people were killed.

At this time, Kelly was employed by NASA and was training for his fourth mission to the space station. He decided to leave his job to take care of his wife.

Giffords suffered from aphasia, a loss of ability to understand or express speech after a brain injury. She had to go through many invasive surgeries, physical therapy and rehabilitation to get back to her life, but she survived. She even opted to vote on an important issue while she was still in the hospital.

She has recovered now, though she still suffers from some effects of her injury. She keeps the part of her skull that was replaced by prosthetics in the freezer in her home.

About a month into Gifford’s recovery, Kelly decided to get his last job back and go into space for his fourth and final time.

He was worried, as she was still recovering, and because missions to space are extremely risky jobs; however, he continued with his mission and successfully completed it.

Channeling his missions in space when he began to see Earth as humanity’s only home, he mentioned climate change.

“We need to do a better job of taking care of our planet,” Kelly said.

This garnered applause from the audience.

Kelly also wrote a book about his experiences, titled “Gabby.”

Kelly ended his speech with a message from Giffords: “Be bold, be courageous and be your best.”

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