Astronaut Mark Kelly is slated to lead the final mission of space shuttle Endeavour in just two days. His recovering wife, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, will be there to witness the scheduled launch.
On "The Early Show" Wednesday, "CBS News Evening News" anchor Katie Couric shared more of her interview with him. The commander discussed his support system and revealed how he'll keep in touch with his wife from space.
Couric notes the Endeavour flight will be Kelly's fourth space mission, and second as a shuttle commander -- a responsibility he doesn't take lightly.
Couric asked Kelly, "This requires a lot of focus, correct?"
"Absolutely," Kelly responded. "A lot of focus, a lot of preparation. We've been preparing -- my crew and I -- have been preparing for this flight for nearly two years now."
But some wonder how the 15-year space veteran can put his entire focus on the mission at hand, as his wife continues to recover from a gunshot wound to the head suffered nearly four months ago.
Couric told Kelly, "This would be an emotional event for you under any circumstances. But under these circumstances, tell me what you're feeling in advance of this mission."
Kelly said, "Well, I've been really, really busy. And certainly, what's going on in my personal life has made it a lot busier than it normally would be. But I've got a good support system. I've got Gabby -- Gabby's staff is here -- you know, part of the time to help with her. And her parents are here, my brother. We have family and friends here. So, that makes it a little bit more manageable."
"How do you cope with this enormous responsibility?" Couric asked. "Not only to your crew and to the shuttle mission, as commander, but also to your wife?"
"Well, I work really hard," Kelly said. "And right now, I'm not - you know, I'm here in the morning, so I'm, you know, I bring her coffee in the morning and her newspaper. And then I'm here at the end of the day to spend some time with her. So, I have a lot less free time. But, you know, as far as my training's going, I haven't been late to something. And, you know, we've done -- my crew has done a really great job handling this. And we'll be ready on Friday the 29th.
On Friday, Giffords will be there, but shielded from the crowd
Couric asked Kelly if the couple talked about the launch.
"Was she able to express her support for you?" Couric asked.
"I know her very well," Kelly said. "And I know that she would not have been happy if I would have given up something that I really love to do."
The mission will last two weeks, and despite being 220 miles above Earth, Kelly says he'll still be able to keep Gabby close to his heart.
Kelly said he plans to keep in touch with e-mail, among other ways.
He explained, "We recently got her a new BlackBerry. So, I can send her an email. ... We'll also do one video teleconference. So, I'll be able to see her and talk to her, towards the end of the flight. But I'll be able to call her. I'll try to call her once a day."
But is Kelly ready for this challenge?
Former Capt. Scott Altman, a retired astronaut who has been on four space missions and commanded two, said the decision was likely made with extreme care by officials.
He said, "(Mark's situation is) something that NASA leadership thought very carefully about and talked with Mark and his crew, and came to that decision together -- that if anything were to happen, Mark would have a focus on the issue at hand and be able to deal with it."
Altman, a close friend of Kelly and Giffords, said the difficulties in Kelly's life are an "extra challenge" for the astronaut.
He said, referring to his own preparations for going into space, "You know, I've laid a lot of the admin work of a launch on my family, to have them take care of those things for me, which I know Mark can't do as much, but I think that he can keep his focus on the mission as it comes to him, and be able to overcome that distraction."
So what is Mark Kelly doing now, just days before the launch?
Altman said, "You have a chance to fly the shuttle training aircraft, do some practice ... before you launch, and then there's some time in the evening tonight for a family barbecue, where just a few guests get to come and go out to the beach house with the crew, and the last chance to sort of have a social experience, and say good-bye for a little while."
This is the end of the shuttle era and Altman, who most recently commanded the shuttle Atlantis in 2009, said it's hard to see this space program end.
"The shuttle was a great program," he said. "I loved every minute I had on board. I'd be ready to go down and jump on it Friday morning if Mark decided he wanted to stay home, after all."