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Astronaut's trip up in air

Will he fly or not?

There are hints that astronaut Mark Kelly will blast into space in April, as commander of Endeavour's final voyage. That would mean leaving his wounded wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to continue her rehab without him for at least a few weeks.

She has limited movement on her right side, and no one has said if she can speak. She was shot in the head not quite a month ago in an attack by a gunman.

Kelly's decision to take a risky rocket ride so early in her recovery may seem startling. But those who know the couple, as well as doctors and rehabilitation experts, say it's a personal choice. And for this modern, high-powered couple, not an extreme one.

"I don't think he can lose either way," said Dr. Louann Brizendine, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco and author of "The Male Brain" and "The Female Brain."

If he decides to go, she said, people will understand that it's for a short period of time. "It's a one-time opportunity perhaps for him. It's what he's trained to do, and also he would only leave if he knew she was in super-good care," Brizendine said. "So I don't think he'll get terribly criticized if he goes."

On the other hand, if he stays, "he would get a lot of praise and a lot of kudos, for staying by her bedside," she said.

Research shows a strong social support network - family, friends, church or similar - is crucial for rehabilitating patients and improves the outcome.

But that doesn't mean a spouse has to be there 24/7, 365 days, said Dr. David Lacey, medical director of acute inpatient rehab services at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

"You also have to look at what's normal for the couple," Lacey said.

What's normal for Kelly and Giffords, through their three-year marriage, is spending a few weeks apart at a time - he in Houston, she in Washington or her home state of Arizona. Kelly, 46, kept vigil at her side in the days immediately after the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson. The rampage outside a supermarket left six dead and 13 injured.

By now, Giffords, 40, should be at a stage where there's little risk for complications, Lacey noted.

The person who knows Kelly best - his identical twin brother, Scott - said from orbit Wednesday that Mark is a logical, thoughtful guy who is weighing all the considerations. NASA management will need to sign off on it, if he decides to fly, said Scott, commander of the International Space Station. A decision should come "fairly soon," he told The Associated Press.

This is Giffords' second week of rehab at TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital. In a Twitter update early Wednesday, Mark Kelly said Giffords is making "Lots of progress!"

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