YOU TALK TO ENDEAVOUR -- May 19, 2011 at 7:30 AM EDT
Exclusive: Watch Live Interview With Shuttle Cmdr. Mark Kelly, Astronauts
Cmdr. Mark Kelly and crew members of the space shuttle Endeavour talked damaged tiles, the future of spaceflight and the health of Kelly's wife Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, during a live interview Thursday morning from the International Space Station.
The astronauts are closely monitoring tiles on the belly of the shuttle that suffered several dings from debris during launch, but the concern level is low, Kelly said, in response to the first question posed by NewsHour science correspondent, Miles O'Brien. "We've seen this kind of stuff before and it's not too big of a concern for us."
When asked about the condition of his wife, who underwent neurosurgery in Houston yesterday, Kelly pulled a necklace from around his neck to reveal her wedding ring. "There it is," he said. "I had a chance at the end of the day to call her mom and her chief of staff and my brother periodically as the surgery was going on, and it went really well. Everything went as planned, her neurosurgeons are very happy, she's recuperating, and she's actually getting back to therapy today."
All crew members were wearing or holding turquoise "Peace Love Gabby" wristbands, several of which floated into the air mid-interview, along with Kelly's microphone.
The other astronauts fielding questions were Endeavour's pilot Gregory Johnson, mission specialists Andrew Feustel and Michael Fincke and Ron Garan, a member of the International Space Station crew.
Nearly 2,000 questions were submitted via YouTube, Twitter and Google's Moderator service. and 13,000 votes were cast in the weeks leading up to the interview, a collaboration between Google, YouTube and the PBS NewsHour. The interview began at 6 a.m. ET and lasted about 20 minutes.
Crew members also answered questions from Miles on the use of social media in orbit (astronauts have "a responsibility" to share what they're doing through blogging and tweeting, Garan said), the frequency of maneuvering around space debris ("We do from time to time," said Feustel), and the reality of visiting Mars by 2030.
"As long as we have the intent to make it onto Mars eventually, we will get there," Feustel said. "As humans, I don't think we'll ever stop exploring."
The team ended the conversation with a less-than-synchronized group somersault: "Certainly not as graceful as it could have been," Kelly admitted.
Endeavour, the baby of the NASA shuttle fleet, lifted off Monday for the final time and docked with the International Space Station on Wednesday after its two-day voyage from Florida.
During its 16-day mission, the crew will deliver a $2 billion particle physics detector to the International Space Station, along with two communication antennas and a high-pressure gas tank. Four spacewalks are planned during the mission -- the next to last for NASA's shuttle program.
Shuttle Atlantis is next in line. Its final launch is planned for sometime in July.