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Love quadrangle: Could Gabrielle Giffords & Mark Kelly's launch moment overshadow the royal wedding?

News_Prince William_Kate Middleton_Engagement Photo_Dec 2010
Prince William and Kate Middleton Photo by Mario Testino
Gabrielle Giffords-Mark Kelly
News_Prince William_Kate Middleton_Engagement Photo_Dec 2010
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With the tabloids all in a tizzy over royal lovebirds Prince William and Kate Middleton, a certain state-side love story is being a bit overshadowed. Consider Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Houston-based astronaut husband Mark Kelly, who will make a rather high-profile appearance on the very same day as the overhyped royal wedding.

Rather than the pomp and circumstance at Westminster Abbey, Giffords will leave TIRR Memorial Hermann for the first time since she was shot on Jan. 8 and attend the launch of space shuttle Endeavor in Cape Canaveral, Fla. as it begins its final journey with her husband as commander.

Will and Kate will be married earlier Friday morning across the pond.

Giffords and Kelly's romance can be traced to a 2003 trip to China as part of a trade mission, endorsed by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Explains their old wedding announcement in the New York Times, the Arizona state senator was in a relationship at the time and Kelly, a former U.S. Navy captain, was married and living in Houston.

It wasn't until a meeting one year later — when Kelly was newly divorced and the pair chose to skip an aerial group tour of the Grand Canyon in favor of an intimate hike — that a spark emerged. The two immediately found themselves connecting through a long-distance phone and e-mail friendship. Giffords even provided dating advice to Kelly.

In November 2004, Giffords found herself single, and proposed a date to tour the Arizona State Prison. Mark got a chance to sit in "the chair" — but more importantly, he confirmed that Giffords is "beautiful, smart, hard working, balanced, fun to be with, and she laughed at my jokes."

It wasn't long before Kelly appeared at Giffords' side during her 2005 congressional campaign, and she arrived to view his shuttle launch in 2006. For that mission, Giffords chose the mission's "wakeup song," a tradition in place since the Apollo Program in which returning astronauts are serenaded by their colleagues in mission control with lyrics from popular songs that seemed appropriate for the occasion. Gabby's esprit de corps track? U2's euphoric single, "Beautiful Day."

Recalled Giffords, "When our relationship just kept getting deeper, I felt a huge sense of relief. I had found someone like me. We're both really curious. We're focused on the same things."

The power couple's energy was declared at their Nov. 10, 2007 wedding by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich: "To a bride who moves at a velocity that exceeds that of anyone else in Washington, and a groom who moves at a velocity that exceeds 17,000 miles per hour." The vibrant ceremony saw a mix of designer gowns, military regalia and traditional Jewish garb, all while a mariachi band accompanied the procession. Ever green-minded, Giffords (herself wearing recycled Vera Wang) made sure all wedding accoutrements were resuable or biodegradable.

Giffords and Kelly's eccentricities and resolute bond have resulted in an admirable relationship that may just be more touching than the nuptials across the pond. Following the travesty of Hurricane Katrina, Giffords came to Houston to aid New Orleans refugees. And when Giffords was shot in the head on Jan. 8, her husband flew immediately from Houston to her hospital bed in Tucson.

The congresswoman's Florida excursion represents her first release from TIRR Memorial Hermann, facilitated by Kelly's meeting with multiple doctors and a neurosurgeon. Also at the launch will be President Obama and his family. Noted the nation's leader in Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people, "she's got the prayers of a nation rooting for her."

No doubt, Friday will be a beautiful day.

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