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Astronaut Mark Kelly: Don't Take 'Vibrant' U.S. Space Program for Granted

 

That's some hair!

From aboard the gravity-free hold of the International Space Shuttle -- which clearly played havoc with flight engineer Cady Coleman's hair -- space shuttle commander Mark Kelly urged Americans to recognize the tremendous accomplishments of the space shuttle, even as the program winds down.

"The end of the shuttle program is a bittersweet thing," he told Fox News, in a satellite interview from the outer space. "The shuttle has been flying for 30 years. It's been an incredible ship, it's done a lot for our nation. But it is 30 years old, and at some point we need to decide to move on, to a new vehicle, and a vehicle that we could one day use for exploration." 

"And hopefully we'll move in that direction."

Kelly arrived at the space station Tuesday morning aboard Endeavour, flying its final mission for NASA before retirement. Endeavour will conclude its final voyage with a landing on June 1.

NASA is shutting down its shuttle program this summer after 30 years, to focus on interplanetary travel. One more mission remains, by space shuttle Atlantis in July.

Kelly said during liftoff that it was in our DNA to reach for the stars and explore, as the shuttle program has done for so many decades -- and we must not stop.

"I think we have a vibrant space program and I think it's not something we should take for granted," Kelly explained. "We're going to continue to operate the space station here, for a lot of years, through 2020 and maybe beyond that. And my opinion is that I think it's really, really valuable, not only to the American people but to everyone on the planet. "

"It's something we need to continue, focus on, invest in -- it's really important."

Kelly is married to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was recuperating Thursday from surgery to repair her skull -- another milestone in her recovery from an assassination attempt -- while doctors focus on the upcoming stages of her rehabilitation.

Kelly told Fox News that Giffords' recovery was going as well as could be expected.

"I talked to her mom and her chief of staff and my brother late in the day, while her surgery was still going on -- and I got an email from her neurosurgeon yesterday," Kelly explained. "And it went great, I mean, as well as he could expect, and she is recovering and will be back at the rehab hospital sometime today or tomorrow."

Coleman explained that Kelly and the other astronauts were already fitting in well among the crew of the International Space Station.

"This shuttle crew is great to have on board," said Cady Coleman. "They're great guests to have, they don't behave like guests, they behave like family," she told Fox News.

"We're doing some really important things this week with them, we're getting a lot of things done to make this station a place where we can do science for the years to come."