Mark Kelly, former astronaut and husband of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, visited Mesa Verde Elementary School Tuesday to return the school’s yearbook that he took on his final mission into space.
The event took place at Mesa Verde’s gymnasium, where students, teachers, and school board members gathered to watch Kelly present the yearbook that contains a tribute to Christina-Taylor Green, a student of Mesa Verde who was killed Jan. 8.
Last May, the school gave Kelly the yearbook to take with him to space.
Commander Kelly and Mission Specialist Mike Fincke took Mesa Verde’s yearbook and spun it through the air, as it hung suspended in space.
School Principal Foster Helper proceeded to reintroduce Kelly, but before doing so, he recited many quotes about kindness, urging students to never forget this quality.
Taking the stage, Kelly acknowledged that it was nice to be back at Mesa Verde, and right away took note of the female Student Council and Kids Helping Kids Officers on stage.
“My wife, Representative Gabrielle Giffords, would be excited that all girls are up here,” he said.
He then told students, “It was a great honor taking your yearbook into space. All of you guys sitting here were all on board with me as well.”
In a brief speech he gave details about commanding his final mission in space, while noting that the mission also marked the 25th and final flight of the spaceship Endeavor.
“The yearbook completed 248 orbits of the earth along with the spacecraft,” he said.
Upon being personally introduced to each Student Council and Kids Helping Kids Officer, Kelly then presented the yearbook, along with a Certificate of Authenticity, on behalf of his space shuttle crew and NASA.
Mesa Verde in turn surprised Kelly by officially inducting him as an Honorary Mesa Verde Mountain Lion. Asking him to raise his right hand, they instructed him to repeat the Mesa Verde motto, and the gymnasium erupted in applause.
With extra time, Kelly opened the floor for a question and answer session with students. Hands flew toward the ceiling, and Kelly responded to as many students as possible, entertaining each question seriously, while also providing humorous responses.
“What does the earth look like from space?” asked one student.
Kelly responded, “It looks like this,” he said while moving his arms out wide.
“It’s a lot of water. Early on we gave the earth a bad name because it’s mostly water,” he said, joking.
“Why are there astronauts?” asked another student.
“Because people are explorers,” said Kelly.
This one-on-one session with students allowed Kelly to deliver a positive message, as he finished by asking who wanted to be an astronaut. With nearly all the students’ hands in the air now, he concluded the ceremony by offering some advice.
“Listen to your teachers, listen to your parents, and do really well in school. Because if you do really well in school, you’ll have options,” he said.
After the assembly, Kelly participated in a question and answer session with the press, allowing for more sensitive questions including those regarding Christina-Taylor Green, who was killed along with five others at the Congress On Your Corner event in Northwest Tucson Jan. 8. Thirteen others were also injured, including Congresswoman Giffords, when a gunman opened fire at the Safeway on Ina Road.
During this session, Kelly said going to see elementary school kids is always fun, especially giving them the opportunity to ask questions.
He continued to address a range of questions, from everything about his new memoir, to how he and Giffords were planning on spending their holidays.
“She wishes she could be here. She’s working really hard,” said Kelly.
He also discussed Giffords recent visit with Green’s parents over Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving was great. It was emotional at times, but Gabby wanted to express her condolences for their loss,” he said.
Kelly explained that Giffords plans to meet with all the victims’ families, but that it will take time.
On a final note, he acknowledged that reflection would undoubtedly be important as the holidays unfold, and that he and Giffords plan to be in Tucson sometime around Jan. 8. Until then, he assured that, “Gabby is thinking about the people of Southern Arizona all the time.”