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Womp, Womp: Mark Kelly Finds Himself Needing To Be 'Transparent' About A Few Things

AP Photo/Keystone/Martial Trezzini, File

Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and current Senate candidate in Arizona, released the full transcript of the speech he gives during paid speaking engagements. The idea was to be open and transparent with voters. But here's the catch: his campaign refuses to say exactly how much Kelly makes every time he delivers his speech. They are, however, quick to tout that Kelly refuses to take money from Political Action Committees (PACs).


“Mark isn’t taking a dime from corporate PACs because he believes they are corrupting our democracy to benefit their own bottom lines,” spokesman Jacob Peters said in a written statement to The Arizona Republic. “It’s pretty easy to see why this is a problem in Washington when Sen. (Martha) McSally takes thousands of dollars from the PACs of pharmaceutical and insurance companies and then votes to raise health care costs on Arizonans.”

We know that the United Arab Emirates paid $55,000 for Kelly to deliver a speech last year. Last month he returned the money because he didn't want to seem like he was being influenced by foreign countries. 

At least if Kelly's campaign is going say that they're being upfront and honest about his speaking engagements, they should release every bit of information, including a who has paid him in the past, how much and what his speaking fee starts at. A speech transcript doesn't really tell us much, other than his life story in his own words. 

This is the speech corporations pay (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands of dollars?) for Kelly to deliver:

Hello, everybody. It’s great to be here in _________ where gravity is always a nice reliable 1G (or works most of the time), where I can breathe oxygen at will, and where it would appear that most of you are not space aliens. But to the rest of you, let me just say I come in peace.

Bono and I have something in common. My wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — is in love with both of us. You see, a couple of weeks before Gabby and I were to get married she sat me down and she said, you know Mark, I’ve been looking for the right person for a long time, and I’m pretty sure that’s you. But I need to tell you something. And then she sat me down and she told me that there was somebody else and then she explained that that person was Bono.

Well, a couple of months after Gabby was injured and was in the hospital recovering in Houston, Texas I got a call on my cell phone and the guy on the other end says, “Mark, this is Bono.” And I said, “Bono who?” He said, “It’s just Bono.”

Then he proceeds to tell me that he felt like he met my wife, Gabby, before. He said he saw all of this going on TV in Tucson and he had a feeling, a sense, that he may have met her before when he was visiting Washington, DC, and had met with members of Congress. So, Bono told me that he went back and he took a look at all the pictures he had taken with members of Congress on Capitol Hill and he found the picture of him and Gabby. And then Bono told me that he now kept that picture on his desk at home. And I said, “Huh, what a coincidence, that’s the same picture that Gabby has on her desk.”

There’s no picture of me and Gabby. There wasn’t even Gabby and any president. Just Gabby and Bono. So needless to say, I did not invite him to come visit her in the hospital. But he calls every now and then to check on her.

Like many of you in this room, I came from a rather ordinary background. I grew up in New Jersey about 15 miles outside of New York City. My dad was a stereotypical tough, New Jersey, Irish detective who used to come home at least once a year with a cast on his right arm. He would tell my brother, Scott, and I that he broke his hand fighting crime. I would later learn that there were a lot more bar fights than there was crime fighting.

My mother was a secretary and a waitress pretty much at the same time. And this was a time in my life that I did not do particularly well and didn’t work really hard. And when I was in middle school, my mother decided that she wanted to become a police officer like my dad.

Now this was New Jersey in the 1970’s and for a woman to become a cop was a really difficult thing to do. My mom had to pass a test and part of this test was a physical fitness test which required that she climb over this 7’2” wall. Now my mom was all of about 4’ 13” tall. And to help my mom out, my dad built a replica of this thing in our backyard. He didn’t tell her he made it an inch higher at 7’3”.

I’d watch my mom go out there after dinner each night and try to get over this thing. Initially she couldn’t reach the top and when she finally could she’d more often than not fall off into the dirt but after months of practice when she finally took this test, instead of getting over in the required 9 seconds she got over in 4 1/2, which was faster than almost all of the men, and she became one of the first female police officers in that part of New Jersey.

This was the first time in my life that I saw the power of having a goal and a plan and what it meant to work really hard at something. It really motivated me and I started working harder myself. I started to get better grades and I set some goals for myself. At a young age I went out and got my first job and by the time I was in high school I was driving an ambulance in the cities of Orange, East Orange and Newark, New Jersey. If you know anything about New Jersey in the 1980s you’d know that these are some tough neighborhoods.

One of the last patients I ever dealt with before going off to fly airplanes in the Navy was a young man I picked up off of the sidewalk in Newark, New Jersey who had seven bullet holes in him. And one of them was a gunshot wound to the head, and the experience with that guy on that sidewalk in Newark, New Jersey, would come back as a real and immediate part of my own life as I first learned the extent of my wife Gabby’s injuries. 

Unlike me, my wife, Gabby, was your classic overachiever. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she went to the school for the gifted and talented kids. Now in New Jersey we hated those kids. But when I met my wife on a trip to China, she seemed like 10 women at once to me. She was a state senator, she was the CEO of her family’s tire and automotive business, she was a Fulbright scholar, she went to an Ivy League school. She even raced motorcycles.

And like my mom I could tell Gabby was a woman that worked incredibly hard and had some lofty goals. One of Gabby’s goals was if ever given the opportunity she wanted to serve her community as a member of Congress. Well, I had some lofty goals myself. Even before I got out of high school I decided I was going to be the very first person to walk on the planet Mars. I really believed that if I worked hard enough and maybe got a little lucky along the way I’d be the first person to walk on the planet Mars.

Well, I left NASA several years ago, without ever making it to Mars. But I did get kind of close. I made it into space four times. Now if any of you in here thinks that’s impressive getting into space four times, just think of how impressed the aliens were, when I told them that I have visited the planet Earth five times, they were really impressed. But to get there I had to have a plan. And my plan was to become a naval aviator and then a Navy test pilot and then an astronaut.

I felt that if I worked hard enough maybe I’d make it to Mars. So, when I graduated from college in 1986 I headed off to flight school at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. Do you remember what movie came out in 1986? Yes, "Top Gun." And I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you this, but literally as I drove through the gate of the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida, for the very first time I had that cheesy music from the movie playing on the tape deck. I think it was the danger zone song.

Then I get there, start flying for the Navy and I very quickly find out that I am not Maverick. I am not a particularly good pilot. I really struggled for a long period of time. Do you know what the Navy does to you after a year in flight school? They send you to land on a ship for the first time. When the Navy sends you to land on an aircraft carrier for the very first time, there isn’t anyone that is crazy enough to go with you. No instructor.

Just you, by yourself, with whatever skills you have accumulated, from countless hours of practice and no one in the back seat. I took off out of the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida, to the USS Forrestal. It felt like I was heading out to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Now they put the ship about 50 miles offshore to make sure you can find it. When you get overhead the ship and look down the landing area looks like a postage stamp bobbing in the ocean. Tiny landing area.

Initially you have to do what’s called a touch-and-go landing where you touch the deck and take off again. So I fly overhead, turn downwind and put the gear and flaps down. I do my two touch-and-go’s. Third time around I also put the tailhook down. That hook is supposed to grab one of the arresting gear wires strung across the back of the ship.

Well, it didn’t. I missed all of the wires, nearly missed the entire ship. Fourth time around I land generally in the right place. It’s like crashing in your car. You go from 120 knots to nothing in about 150 feet. Then you pull the power back, raise the hook and taxi to the catapult. They hook you up to the catapult and launch you off the front of the ship. Incredible acceleration. You accelerate from zero to 130 mph or so in seconds. I barely remember any of it, with the exception of the deck hand giving me an obscene gesture with one of his fingers. But not this finger.

Later that evening I’m back at the Naval Air Station and I’m being debriefed by the instructor pilot who was watching from the back of the ship. Do you know what the first thing he says to me is? He says, “Are you sure this career is for you?” And I get it. I was really horrible at this. I'm fairly certain even Tom Cruise would have been better. Not the character from the movie, but the actor Tom Cruise would have been better than me. But you know what? I didn’t give up, and the guys who did really well that day didn’t go on to become test pilots or astronauts.

My point is that we all don’t learn at the same rate. How well you do in the beginning of anything that you try is not a good indicator of how good you can become. I’m a prime example of someone who was able to overcome a lack of aptitude with persistence, practice and the drive to never, ever give up.

So, if you’re not as good at your job as the guy sitting next you, or if your [sic] not as good as you’d like to be at anything you do, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be next year. In fact, you can be better! I went from being an awful student pilot, to a decent test pilot to a pretty good astronaut just by working hard. As you can see, I’m a strong believer in hard work.

Life is a set of challenges, and in 1990 I was hit with the first major professional challenge of my life when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. I was stationed in Japan aboard the aircraft carrier the USS Midway and by the fall of that year we were heading south through the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean and up through the Arabian (or Persian) Gulf.

We got there around Thanksgiving, and on January 17th of 1991, it was time for me to fly my first combat mission. Now this airplane I flew was a two-seat ground attack airplane called an A-6E Intruder. I was the pilot and I had a bombardier navigator with me. My bombardier navigator was named Paul Fujimura. Paul was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. I think he is perhaps the only person from Berkeley ever to go into the military. But he was a great guy and he was very good at his job.

Paul and I headed up to the flight deck early ... we didn’t want to be late for our first combat mission. It was dark on the flight deck that night. There was no moon in the sky.

The ordies, the guys who wear the red shirts on the flight deck, were loading bombs and missiles onto the airplanes ... ours included. We were carrying six or eight 1,000 pound bombs. Our target was a maintenance hangar at place called Shaibah airfield in the city of Basra in southern Iraq.

We climb into the airplane and turn on the batteries, avionics and radios. It doesn’t take long for us to hear of another A-6 Intruder just like ours get shot down and now they are searching for the aircrew. A little while later we start the engine, close the canopy and taxi to the catapult. We get launched off the front of the ship and head to an airborne Air Force fuel tanker where we take on a full load of gas.

Then we proceed further north toward the southern coast of Iraq in the northern part of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf and as soon as we get over land we can see AAA, anti-aircraft artillery, bullets come up at our airplane and at night you can see the tracers and as the Iraqis on the ground move the guns back and forth. It looks like snakes coming up through the sky at you.

Now Winston Churchill said about his own personal experience in combat that “there is nothing more exciting than being shot at — and missed.” Well speaking from experience, he is right, it is exciting, but until you are sure you’re not going to be killed, it isn’t any fun, either.

Now to get to our target that night we had to go through this area in southern Iraq that had a huge air defense system. And we had to go through these missile envelopes and most of these missile batteries were to our south, my left. So, I kept looking over my left shoulder and I have to tell you that one of the worst feelings I’d had in my life up to that point was seeing that missile come up at our airplane. Big bright white dot not moving forward or aft in the canopy. If it stays in the same place and just gets bigger, do you know what that means? It means it is coming right at you.

As soon as I see this thing I say to Paul, “We have a missile coming right at us.” The only thing he says to me is, “Roger, I’m tracking the target.” He’s looking at the radar and an infrared sensor and he has his hand on this joy stick. I said to him again, “Paul, did you hear me we have a missile coming at us.” Again, his only response is “Roger, I’m tracking the target.”

So he is doing what we call in the military or at NASA, compartmentalization. Focusing on the stuff in his control and not worrying about the stuff outside of his control, that missile, that’s my problem.

Eventually this missile gets close to us and we have to do a “last-ditch” maneuver. So I roll the airplane upside down, add full power and put the stick in my lap. We go down. Missile goes over the top of us and explodes. There is a big flash, the airplane shakes.

I get the plane turned upright again. I look at the instrument panel. Both engines are still running, all four hydraulic systems are still at full pressure. So it doesn’t seem like we have any holes in the airplane. So I turn back toward the target. You know what is worse than seeing the first missile ... it’s seeing the second one.

We go through the same process and again wind up upside down and at full power. This time the missile doesn’t blow up. And I couldn’t be more impressed with Paul and his ability to compartmentalize ... to focus on what he had influence over and not worry about the stuff he couldn’t control.

Often, in your business, at your job, there are things outside of your control. The economy, for instance, or government regulation. Sometimes the best any of us can do is to figure out what we have control over and focus on that.

A little while later, we get over Shaibah airfield and into our 30-degree dive to deliver this ordnance.

Over southern Iraq that night there was cloud layer at about 10,000 feet, and all of these clouds were orange because there were airplanes there ahead of us and there were fires at the airfield. There was AAA coming out of the top of the clouds at us. We go through the clouds. I can see the runway and the hangar and I hit the button on the stick. Thousands of pounds of bombs go flying.

Airplane gets a lot lighter, so it kind of pops up in the air. You don’t hang around to see if you hit anything. You just turn around to get out of there. I really didn’t want to go back through those missile envelopes to get out of there. So I immediately said to Paul, “Hey, we almost got shot down. I don’t want to go through those missile envelopes and I have a better idea.” He said, “Well, I have our egress route on the map, that is where we are expected to go.”

I tell him, “I’ve got a better idea. We are going to go east.” You know what’s east of Iraq — Iran. So we go about 50 or so miles into Iranian airspace and I hang a right turn and am headed south. My A-6E Intruder was going as fast as it could go and I was really looking forward to getting back to the ship. We probably hit our target. No one is shooting at us anymore. Then I heard our air wing vectoring two of our Navy F-18 fighters onto an Iraqi airplane somewhere. I think to myself, we just survived two surface-to-air missiles. There is no way that this Iraqi pilot is going to survive a missile coming off of one of our F-18s, that guy is dead.

A little while later they start calling out the airspeed and altitude of the enemy fighter and I look at my instruments ...15,000 feet, 550 knots, what a coincidence. That is the same speed as us. It took a couple of seconds for the light bulb to come on, but when it did, I pulled back the power and put out the speed brakes to slow down and I yelled into the radio, “Don’t shoot down the moron in Iranian airspace,” because it was me.

Paul didn’t say a word to me. I’m not sure he has said a word to me since, but it gave me a lot of time to think, and I’ve thought about that night in every job I’ve had since. And what I learned that night over Iran is there is never an excuse for not communicating with the people you work with. Timely and accurate communication is so important in everything we all do, and I didn’t do that, and it nearly cost me my life.

When my wife, Gabby, entered Congress for the first time in 2007, I thought I had the risky job. I’d flown 39 combat missions. By that point in my career I had already flown two flights into space. But as it would turn out, my wife, Gabby, is the one who would nearly lose her life serving her country. On the day Gabby was injured, there was no countdown clock. And what I mean by that is normally for these big events in my life, like a combat mission or a space flight, there’s a clock and it’s counting toward zero and it starts on time.

But on this day, it was only a phone call. It was about 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I was in Houston, Texas, where I lived close to where I worked at the Johnson Space Center. Gabby and I had one of those commuter marriages: D.C. where she served in Congress, Tucson, Arizona, where her district was and Houston where I lived and worked as an astronaut.

I’d just gotten off the phone with Gabby and I knew she was going to this thing she called "Congress on your corner" where she would meet with her constituents and take their questions. I was talking to my oldest daughter about a boyfriend problem. Now she was 16 years old at the time, so she would tell you that it wasn’t her or the boyfriend who had the problem, but it was me.

Then my phone rings. I pick it up and it is Gabby’s chief of staff, a young woman named Pia Carusone who says to me, “Mark, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Gabby has been shot.” She didn’t have a lot of info.

We hung up from the call. I tell my daughter Claudia to wake up her sister. Then I think to myself, “Did this just happen? Did I just get that call?” So I go up to my phone and see that I had that incoming call from Pia. Then I call her back and tell her, “Tell me that again.” And then that’s when she gives me the really devastating news. That my wife Gabby has been shot in the head, and that image of that young guy on the sidewalk in New Jersey comes back in a flash, and what the consequences of that gunshot wound were to him and how this is likely to turn out for Gabby.

Within an hour or so of the phone call telling me that my wife had been shot in the head I was on a friend’s airplane heading west for the two-hour flight from Houston to Tucson. I think one of the dumber things I’ve done in my life is to leave the TV on on the airplane and watch this day unfold. About halfway there the media reported that Gabby had died. We sat there for about 30 minutes with a picture and the graphic on the screen that said “Gabrielle Giffords, 1970-2011.” About 30 minutes later they report that Gabby wasn’t dead and that she was in surgery.

You know, the media shouldn’t be pronouncing people dead. They should leave that up to doctors to do, and I can tell you this, Gabby Giffords wasn’t going to be taken out by cable news.

Almost immediately after we land, I find myself in a conference room at the University of Arizona Medical Center and I start to learn what it means to be the primary caregiver for someone who is so seriously injured. Within the first few days it looked like Gabby needed a second brain surgery. Gabby was shot from a few feet away with a nine-millimeter round right in the middle of the left side of her forehead. And the energy from that gunshot wound fractured the top of both of her eye sockets. And the right side opposite the gunshot wound was worse than the left and it needed to be repaired surgically.

The doctors told me that what they wanted to do was to do the surgery from inside of her eye and repair it from the bottom up. And then the day before the surgery they tell me that they’ve changed their minds, now what they want to do is cut all the bone off of the right side of her forehead, take that out and do the surgery from the top down. I started thinking to myself, how do these doctors make a decision? What is their process for making this important decision?

Then I started thinking about decision-making at NASA. Now, we’ve had two accidents with the space shuttle. The Challenger accident in 1986 and the Columbia accident in 2003. The Columbia accident hit close to home for me personally because three of the astronauts onboard Columbia were my astronaut classmates. I was also the unfortunate person that had to pick their bodies up, in one case off of a dirt road and the other two from out in the woods in east Texas. So, the cause of that accident and what we learned about it became very central to the rest of my time at NASA.

We learned a lot about decision-making. Especially about poor decision-making. And after the Columbia accident we took a lot of steps to try to facilitate better decision-making. One of the things we did was we built a new conference room for the mission management team. This is the group of people that make decisions when we have crew members in space. This conference room has a bunch of ergonomic features to it. As an example, nobody sits higher than anybody else and everybody has access to a microphone so everyone can be heard.

It also has some sayings written on the walls of this conference room. Now listen to this, this is important. In this NASA conference room for the mission management team on the wall in big letters it says, “None of us is as dumb as all of us.” Think about that. Let me say that again, “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”

What that means is sometimes a group of people, like all of you folks sitting here in the front row, you can be asked to make a decision and as a group and you will march off in a direction that no single individual would have taken if it was their job to make the decision by themselves. That sometimes this thing called groupthink can set in and a team of people could make a really bad decision. It happened before the Challenger accident. It also happened before Columbia.

Now at NASA we are all about collaborative decision-making. We find it very important to make difficult decisions as a team, but we also understand that sometimes the team of people can really mess it up. So we try to guard against that.

So before Gabby’s surgery I got all these doctors, nurses and some residents into one of those little tiny break rooms in the ICU. That little room that has the dirty microwave. I crammed about 20 people in there and then I explained this concept of "none of us is as dumb as all of us" to them. And then I went around the room to get everybody’s opinion.

But I have to tell you if I’ve learned anything from my 15 years at our nation’s space program, I learned that you do not want to ask the flight director, the chief engineer or the space shuttle commander his opinion first. Because if you do, you don’t get the best advice from the people underneath them.

So on that day in that little break room I went around the room to get everybody’s opinion, and I found what looked like the youngest-looking resident. Now this young woman was an ophthalmology resident. She looked like she was 17 years old. She was probably 10 years older than that. I said, "You tell me what’s wrong with my wife and what you think we should do about it." And then we went up to the neurosurgeon.

And as you might expect, they ultimately did a fantastic job repairing Gabby’s eye from the top down.

The day after Gabby was injured, she was in a coma in the hospital in Tucson. At that point I was going to be the commander of the last flight of spaceship Endeavor. The highlight of my career as an astronaut. I called my boss up, the chief astronaut, Dr. Peggy Whitson, and I said “Peggy, I don’t think I can do this. I think you’re going to have to find a replacement. Gabby’s in a coma. Doctors don’t know when she’ll be out of the coma. I might be here for months.”

I was supposed to launch in three months with my crew members up to the space station. So they found a replacement for me. About a week later, Gabby came out of the coma. We needed to get her to a rehab hospital. And one of the best hospitals in the world for this kind of injury was in Houston, Texas, where I lived, where the Johnson Space Center was.

And after moving Gabby there, a couple of months later I contemplated getting my job back. It’s a very personal decision for anybody in that position when do they make the decision to go back to work or to do anything associated with their former life. And it was hard for me. One of the things that made it really hard was because of Gabby’s left-side traumatic brain injury, she has a very difficult time communicating. She’s a lot better now, but back then the transmission of speech was very hard and we weren’t even sure she was even understanding the questions we were asking.

And I’m trying to decide whether I go back to do this final flight of the space shuttle. It was a tough thing for me. A couple of the things that really helped me, one is that my wife, Gabby, was one of my biggest supporters of my career. My Navy career and my NASA career. She was also a big fan of the space program.

When Gabby went to Congress she actually asked to be on the science committee. Nobody asks to be on the science committee except my wife. And at the time she was nearly assassinated she was the chairwoman of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee. What that means is in the House of Representatives my wife, Gabby, was in charge of NASA’s budget. So if you’re wondering, yes, I did ask her for more money. But she never gave it to us. At least not because I asked. But she was a big supporter of what NASA did.

But the other problem was this was a real risky thing to be doing. The space shuttle is really dangerous and we just had this horrific thing happen in our family. I don’t think people realize the risk involved in flying the space shuttle. It’s actually almost as dangerous as storming the beach at Normandy on D-Day. Not quite that level of risk, but it’s pretty close. I was recently on an airplane and the woman sitting next to me leaned over and said, “Hey, isn’t driving in my car down the highway more dangerous than launching in the space shuttle?” And I said, “No, it is not.”

And if we wanted to demonstrate it in here, what we would do is give everybody a deck of cards, and I’d let everybody pick a card from the deck and if you picked any other card other than the ace of spades, you’d win a great prize. But if you picked that ace of spades, you’d lose your life. And if we did that in this room today, I think there would be about ______ many of you that would pick the ace of spades and wouldn’t get to go home.

So, it’s risky. But we realize that. And there are ways that we manage the risk. There are a lot of things that we do. One of the big things in managing risk is paying attention to the details. I’m sure that’s true in your industry as well. Focusing on the details, if you do that, bad things tend not to happen. The other thing we try to do is we try to put great teams of people together, whether it’s on the ground in mission control or inside the spacecraft.

And as the commander of a space shuttle flight, I get a little bit of a say as to who my other crew members are going to be. There are things I look for and things I don’t like. The most important quality in space-shuttle crew members is competence. But as important is the one thing that I do not like. And that is the "yes" people. Yes men, yes women.

I am perfectly capable of agreeing with myself. I’m actually pretty good at it. So, what I do after we select a crew for a space shuttle mission, I sit my crew members down and one of the first things I tell them is that they are required to question my decisions. It’s not optional. I also tell them, don’t always do it out loud where I can hear you. But if you think we should be doing something differently and it affects safety or mission success, you’re required to tell me about it. And we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to figure it out as a team. 

On May 16, about four months after Gabby was injured, my five crew members and I headed out to the launch pad to fly that final flight of space shuttle Endeavour. When you go out to launch on the real day for a mission, the launch pad is abandoned. There’s like almost nobody up there because you’ve got basically this giant bomb sitting on a hill. We climb into the vehicle about three hours before liftoff, we’re laying on our backs in our seats. We get strapped in. Then we have to start turning everything on. We had to turn on the APUs, the hydraulic system, electrical system, environmental system. OMS engines, RCS engines all have to be in the right configuration, the main engines. Two thousand switches and circuit breakers all need to be in the right place. Computers going through all these different modes. We’ve got this big checklist we’re working through.

There is a countdown clock heading toward zero. It actually stops a couple of times. Gives you a little time to catch up if you got behind. That’s also when you think to yourself, "Boy, this is really a dumb thing to be doing." It would also be kind of embarrassing if at that point you said, “Hey, I’ve changed my mind.” Eventually, that clock gets to six seconds and the main engines start. Three main engines come up to full power and you don’t go anywhere because you’re literally bolted to the launch pad with eight giant bolts. About that big. And then the clock goes, five, four, three, two, one.

When it hits zero, those bolts explode, the solid rocket boosters simultaneously ignite and it is literally like the hand of God came down and ripped you off the planet. Seven and a half million pounds of thrust right on your back. You know how on TV it looks like you are going up really smoothly? Well, it doesn’t feel anything like that.

It’s an incredible amount of vibration. What it feels like is imagine if you are on a runaway train going down the railroad tracks at 1000 miles an hour. Then you just keep accelerating. We accelerate from zero to 17,500 miles an hour in just 8.5 minutes. Now two minutes into the flight those white solid rocket boosters, they come off; they parachute down into the ocean. NASA sends a ship out there to pick them up and we reuse them. I think they’re only slightly more expensive to reuse. That’s true. At the end of that 8.5 minutes the main engines shut down, then the orange external tank pops off and flies halfway around the planet and hits the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean and explodes. Pieces go into the ocean.

And then we’re in orbit around this incredible planet. It is amazing to see this big blue round planet, let me say that again, ROUND planet, just floating there in the blackness of space. No strings attached, just floating. We’re going around the planet every 90 minutes, so there’s a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. A day and a half later we dock to the international space station, which is a million-pound space station built by 16 international partners. It’s a big facility. It’s got the internal volume of a 747. It is literally the size of a football field.

After docking at the space station, we delivered a cosmic particle detector, my crew members did five spacewalks, we repaired a bunch of stuff, brought up a bunch of supplies. We were there for about 10 days. And after finishing that part of the mission, it was time to come home. And then you undock from the space station.

Now I find it fascinating that we get this space shuttle into space. The trickier part, I think, is getting it home successfully. Because the space shuttle is a pretty fragile machine. A former colleague of mine used to describe it for launch as a butterfly bolted to a bullet. And it really is. It doesn’t seem as robust as an airplane, even. The space shuttle is by far the greatest space ship ever built. It is a decent rocket-ship, but I have to tell you it is the worst airplane I’ve ever flown in my life.

Now we have this fragile airplane that doesn’t fly all that well and we are in orbit around the Earth. We’ve got to get it home. And the way we do that is over the middle of the Indian Ocean, we slow the space shuttle down from 17,500 mph to 17,300 mph and that little bit of deceleration causes us to descend and then we hit the atmosphere and the friction and drag causes us to slow down more and descend more.

By the time we get over the Pacific Ocean, we are in this giant fireball as big as this building, and it’s 5,000 degrees one foot outside the window. We go screaming across the Pacific in this big ball of fire and at that point we can’t decide to land in Hawaii, California or Texas. We have to go all the way to Florida. Eventually when we hit the west coast of Mexico we’ve cooled down some.

By that point you can see all of Florida, for us it was the middle of the night, all of Florida lit up. We’re going to go and land on this runway, this single runway at the Kennedy Space Center. If any of you have ever seen this runway, you might notice it’s a single concrete runway and on each side of the runway there’s water, the whole length of the runway. Water. You know what’s in water in Florida? Alligators, yes, alligators. I think NASA put that there as added motivation to land the $2 billion spaceship on the runway.

So eventually you roll onto final. And for landing, the space shuttle is a glider. We have no engines for landing. And it glides about as well as that podium over there (or a Coke machine or a rock). It glides like that. We’re in this 20-degree dive, 10 times steeper than an airliner. We fly the approach at 300 knots and we touch down at 200 knots. We put this parachute out, roll about halfway down the runway. And after about 16 days in space I landed space shuttle Endeavor for its last time.

My wife, Gabby, could not be there for the landing. She was there for the liftoff. But for the landing she was still in the hospital. Gabby had to have what was going to be her final brain surgery while I was in space. That was to replace the piece of skull that was removed on the day she was shot, which was about the size of my hand, with a prosthetic.

If any of you would come to our house in Tucson, Arizona, if you haven’t been there before, one of the first things Gabby might do is she’ll go up to the freezer and pull out this blue Tupperware where she keeps the real skull. Now this really freaks some people out. But it demonstrates the power of the human spirit. How people can fight to survive and fight to come back. 

I saw Gabby’s spirit really on display in August the year she was injured when she made this bold decision to go back and vote on this bill that would raise the debt ceiling. Now this was a controversial vote in Congress. I think most other members of Congress would have loved to have been able to say, “Hey, I’m in the hospital. I’m not coming.” But not my wife. She was watching this on TV, reading about it in the paper.

The morning of that debt-ceiling vote in August of 2011 she was at the hospital and I was about an hour south at our house in Texas. I called Gabby on the phone and I said, “You’ve got to make a decision whether you want to go or not, like, right now.”

It was about 10:00 a.m. Gabby said she wanted to be there for the vote, so her Capitol Police detail that she had and this nurse, they head to the airport. Like I said, I’m about an hour south in our house. Have any of you guys in here ever packed for your wife for a trip? Yes, this is perhaps the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. I throw this stuff in a suitcase. I head to the airport. I get about halfway there, the nurse calls me up and says, “you have all of her medication, right?” I turn around, I go back to the house, I grab the medication, I barely make it to the airplane in time.

We fly to Washington, D.C. We go to this hotel. Gabby’s young female staff members open up the suitcase and realized that they need to go to the mall. So they go buy her some clothes. She barely makes it to the floor of the House of Representatives on time to have her voice heard just one last time.

I couldn’t be more proud of my wife. After everything she had been through, she showed up that day to do her job. A New Jersey newspaper described this day the best. They said, “After months of rancor and pettiness, one small woman brought Washington to its feet.” They went on and said, “We can compromise on how we fund America, we cannot compromise on how we define America. That definition does not require words, just look to Gabby Giffords.” 

Gabby and I attended the sentencing hearing of the guy who shot her and murdered her constituents. I’ve got to tell you it was a surreal experience to be there in that courtroom with him. I’d never seen him before. My wife doesn’t remember anything from that day except one thing. A year later we took her back to the Safeway parking lot and she remembered one thing. And that is where she parked.

Now, I go into Walmart and I come out and I can’t find my car. But Gabby remembered where she parked. We had the opportunity to address the court, but Gabby wanted to address him. And while she stood at this podium and looked him straight in his eyes, I had the opportunity to read her statement. We told him a bunch of different things. It wasn’t short.

One of the things we told him was that Gabby would certainly trade her own life to bring back any of the six individuals that died that day, especially 9-year old Christina Taylor Green, who was born on 9/11 and did not live to see her 10th birthday. And had very high-minded ideas about service and democracy and deserved an entire life committed to advancing that. And she was just there to ask my wife a question about the oil spill right here in the Gulf. She was next in line and Gabby and they never even got to meet. We also told him that Gabby’s life has been changed forever. But we told him despite putting a bullet through her head, he has not put a dent in her spirit and her desire to make the world a better place. 

Gabby would have loved to come here and meet with all of you today but she couldn’t. She did want me to send you a message. I mentioned earlier that from Gabby’s injury, she suffers from aphasia, I think I mentioned that, which is difficulty with speech. Gabby was talking about what she would say to all of you and we were working on her remarks at the breakfast table about a week or so ago. I was complaining about some pain I had in my right arm. I had some surgery because I ripped the biceps tendon off the bone in my right arm while pole vaulting. Yes, pretty funny. Let me give you some advice. If you are over the age of 50, don’t pole vault.

So I was complaining about how my right arm hurt and Gabby was eating her breakfast and she just looked up and with a raise of her eyebrow said to me, "Are you frickin’ kidding me?" So, this is from Gabby Giffords to all of you – Be Bold, Be Courageous and Be Your Best!

Thank you very much, everybody.


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