Mark Kelly, Retired Astronaut and Steadfast Supporter of Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords' devoted husband has stood by her throughout her recovery. But Mark Kelly's own story is fascinating in itself.

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Space shuttle Endeavour crew Commander Mark Kelly stands on the tarmac after he arrived at Kennedy Space Center on May 12, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Florida

Astronaut Mark Kelly skyrocketed to fame as the loving husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after the Arizona congresswoman was shot at a campaign event in Tucson. Through the intense recovery and rehabilitation process, the 47-year-old Kelly was a constant presence at Giffords’s bedside. Indeed, one of the first photos to emerge from the hospital was of Kelly clutching his wife’s hand. He served as her mouthpiece as she remained unable to talk and continues to offers the occasional bon mot as she works to regain full speech.

But Kelly is much more than just a helping hand – he’s embraced the role of devoted husband wholeheartedly, after a storied career as a naval pilot in Desert Storm and more than 15 years as an astronaut. The two were married in November 2007, but his NASA work kept him in Houston and her politics career brought her between D.C. and Tucson, leaving little time under the same roof. But following one final (long-planned) space mission after Giffords was shot, he returned to Earth and announced his retirement. As Giffords’ health has improved, Kelly took the reins on a book, co-written with his wife. Very simply titled Gabby, the memoir spells out the tragic past and looks toward a hopeful future, with Mark by her side for what he says is a “lifelong marathon.”

(PHOTOS: Scenes of Grief in Tucson)

Fast Facts:

  • Originally from Orange, N.J.
  • Attended college at the Merchant Marine Academy, graduating in 1986 with highest honors
  • Trained as a naval aviator and flew 39 missions in the first Gulf War
  • Has two teenage daughters, Claudia and Claire, from his first marriage
  • Started his career as NASA astronaut in 1996, serving as pilot or commander on four space missions from 2001 to 2011
  • Has orbited the earth 854 times throughout his total 54 days in space
  • Has an identical twin brother, Scott, also an astronaut
  • Met Giffords in 2003 in Hangzhou, China, when both were members of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations
  • The couple’s first date was a tour of the Arizona State Prison
  • Married Giffords in 2007 on an organic vegetable farm in Amada, Ariz.
  • Retired from NASA on Oct 21, 2011

Said by Kelly:

“A trip to space is a big motivator to give up some things in your personal life. Obviously, you can’t give up everything and you don’t want to,” he said. “You look at it as a privilege.” (Arizona Republic, June 1, 2008)

“Words cannot convey my deep gratitude for the opportunities I have been given to serve our great nation … It has been my privilege to advance the ideals that define the United States of America.” (KTRK, June 21, 2011)

“I don’t think [I would run]. I want her to get better. My job is to make sure she can get better so she can go back to her career serving her constituents.” (when asked if he’d run for Congress in place of Giffords, ABC News, November 15, 2011)

(WATCH: Gabrielle Giffords’ Brain Injury: The Steps to Recovery)

Said About Kelly:

“When our relationship just kept getting deeper, I felt a huge sense of relief I had found someone like me. We’re both really curious. We’re focused on the same things.” – Gabrielle Giffords, his wife (The New York Times, December 2, 2007)

“You can tell how much they love each other, how hard they work to make that relationship work, as they both have many, many responsibilities.” – Adam Smith, friend (ABC News, Jan. 11, 2011)

“I’m sure there are a lot of emotions, but his personality and professionalism will allow him to handle the situation, to have a plan and execute it. He’s got that talent.” – Robert Tijerina, friend (Houston Chronicle, January 17, 2011)

“Brave. That’s what I think of when I think of you.” – Gabrielle Giffords, (ABC News, Nov. 14, 2011)

READ: Gabrielle Giffords Shows Signs of Recovery in ABC News Special