Giffords' Astronaut Brother-in-Law Speaks Out on Tragedy

Astronauts Mark Kelly, STS-134 Commander, and Scott Kelly, Expedition 26 Commander.
Astronauts Mark Kelly, STS-134 Commander, and Scott Kelly, Expedition 26 Commander. (Image credit: NASA)

The astronaut brother-in-law of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured this month in a shooting in Tucson, Ariz., spoke from the International Space Station this morning about Giffords' recovery and how his family is coping with the tragedy.

"Every time I talk to my brother, it seems like she's making really small steps, which, I think with this type of injury, is really critical," NASA astronaut Scott Kelly told ABC affiliate KTRK Houston. "We're all optimistic about her outcome."

Giffords (D-Ariz.)is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head that she sustained during a violent attackat a local supermarket event in Tucson.

Six people were killed and 12 others were injured in the Jan. 8 shooting.

Giffords remains at the University Medical Center of Tucson, but her condition is said to be improving daily. Over the weekend, doctors upgraded her condition from critical to serious, according to

Giffords' husband (and Scott Kelly's twin brother) is NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. He is slated to command the upcoming flight of the space shuttle Endeavour, which is currently scheduled to launch on April 19.

While Mark Kelly is still the commander of the shuttle mission, NASA has named veteran spaceflyer Rick Sturckow to serve as a backup commanderduring training for Endeavour's mission so that Kelly can remain by his wife's side.

As to whether his brother might opt to remove himself from the mission entirely, Scott Kelly said the choice is contingent on several factors.

"It's a decision that he'll make in consultation with the astronaut office and other folks at NASA," Scott Kelly said. "There's a lot to consider. I think he'll make the right decision, and I think he'll also weigh what Gabby would want in this scenario. I think we'll know something about that within a couple weeks."

Scott Kelly said he calls his brother from the space station twice daily to receive updates on Giffords' condition, and has also been in contact with other family and friends.

"I spoke to him this morning," Scott Kelly said. "I think he's coping as well as you can in this type of situation. Certainly it's very, very difficult but I think he's doing about as good as you can expect anyone to do."

And while it is tough to be away from his family, Kelly called himself a realist, saying he understands the situation and plans to cope and be supportive as well as he can.

"The best I can do is continue to do my job as I've done all along, support my brother and my kids the best way I can by means onboard the space station," he told ABC Primetime.

He said he hoped a lesson could be taken away from the tragic event.

"What we do here in space is incredibly challenging, and our country faces a lot of challenges," Kelly said. "The way we deal with challenges in this environment is through teamwork. Maybe the only good that can come of this is that we learn to work together."

You can follow Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.