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Former Astronaut Mark Kelly Attends Obama's State of the Union Address

Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly applauds President Barack Obama after the 2012 State of the Union address on Jan. 24, 2012.
Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly applauds President Barack Obama after the 2012 State of the Union address. Kelly sat with First Lady Michelle Obama in the First Lady's box during the president's speech while his wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, attended on the floor of the House chamber on Jan. 24, 2012.
(Image: © White House Webcast)

Retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, were among the high profile attendees at U.S. President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday (Jan. 24) in Washington, D.C.

Kelly, who commanded NASA's second-to-last space shuttle mission last year, sat with First Lady Michelle Obama during the president's speech. He watched from the First Lady's box as Giffords received a standing ovation, a stirring show of support from her colleagues, when she arrived. 

Giffords suffered a gunshot wound to the head on Jan. 8, 2011 during an assassination attempt in Tucson, just months before Kelly's spaceflight. She announced her plan to retire from Congress earlier this week. 

As President Obama approached the podium to deliver tonight's State of the Union address, he stopped to give Giffords a warm welcome. The two were all smiles as they embraced and rocked back and forth amid more applause. [Photos: Astronaut Mark Kelly & Gabrielle Giffords]

"Thankful to be watching tonight's #SOTU address next to @MichelleObama. Gabby's attendance will be a proud moment for all of us," Kelly write in a Twitter post. "Wonderful to see my wife Gabby w/her colleagues at the #SOTU—I continued to be amazed by her. #Strong."

President Barack Obama welcomes Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is married to former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, to his State of the Union speech on Jan. 24, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
(Image credit: CNN)

Giffords made a miraculous recovery and was even able to attend her husband's launch, on NASA's 134th space shuttle flight aboard the shuttle Endeavour, in May 2011.It was the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour. 

Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly watches as his wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, receives a warm welcome by President Barack Obama at the State of the Union speech in Washington on Jan. 24, 2012.
(Image credit: CNN)

Kelly officially retired from NASA and the U.S. Navy in June 2011. Vice President Joe Biden attended Kelly's retirement ceremony in Washington. Giffords announced on Jan. 22 that she will step down from office to focus on her health and rehabilitation.

"I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week," Giffords said in a video message posted on her Facebook website. "Arizona is my home, always will be. A lot has happened over the past year; we cannot change that. But I know, on the issues we fought for, we can change things for the better: jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together."

During his State of the Union address, Obama did not mention NASA or his vision for deep space exploration of asteroids and Mars, but he did emphasize the need for innovation to remain competitive in the fields of science and technology.

Obama's speech came one day after Republican presidential debates took place in Florida, where candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich made statements that called for a leaner NASA and more support for private space industry initiatives.

You can follow SPACE.com staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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