The six crewmembers aboard the International Space Station received a special call from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today (Jan. 11), wishing the spaceflyers a successful mission and parlaying sympathy on behalf of the Russian people over the recent shooting in Tucson, Ariz.

In particular, Putin reached out to the station's commander, Scott Kelly, whose sister-in-law, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in the head when a gunman opened fire at a constituent meeting that was being held at a local supermarket. Giffords remains in critical condition at the University Medical Center of Tucson.

"I would like to start our conversation today with words of wholehearted condolences which I would like to express to Mr. Scott Kelly, in relation to the assassination attempt to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords," Putin said. "I would like to assure you that there are no people in Russia who are not touched by this terrible news. We know that Mrs. Giffords is the wife of your brother, a NASA astronaut who has visited Moscow on several occasions."

Putin expressed his condolences to Kelly's family, "and to all those who were touched by the terrible crime."

In response, Kelly thanked Putin and said he would pass on the Russian diplomat's words to his twin brother, Mark Kelly. Gifford's husband, Mark Kelly, is a veteran NASA astronaut of three space shuttle flights. Mark is scheduled to command the upcoming final flight of space shuttle Endeavour, which is currently slated to launch in April.

Putin then thanked the station crewmembers for their hard work and wished them a successful mission. He also acknowledged the various events being planned in Russia in 2011 to commemorate cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who in 1961 became the first human to fly in outer space.

This year, people around the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's milestone on April 12, 1961, which represents the inception of human spaceflight.

"This year, which has been designated the year of spaceflight in Russia, will be marked by many events commemorating space research and human space exploration," Putin said to the Expedition 26 crew. "These will be events that will be spectacular in nature, and designed to spark interest in space exploration amongst the general public. I know that your crew is coming back to Earth in the spring, and I invite all of you to participate in the events."

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