Get to Know Arizona Senator Mark Kelly

By | January 17, 2023

Background

Mark Kelly, an astronaut and a Navy veteran, is currently a United States Senator from Arizona. He was born in Orange, NJ and grew up in West Orange. Kelly graduated with a BA in marine engineering from the US Merchant Marine Academy in 1986. He then became a navy aviator and flew combat missions in Desert Storm and later in Iraq. He has also flown 39 NASA space missions and was a captain for both the Space Shuttle Endeavour and Discovery.

In September 2018, Kelly was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Arizona, and in November that year, he was sworn into office.

Early Life and Education

Mark Kelly was born on February 21, 1964 in Orange, New Jersey. He is the second child of Richard and Patricia Kelly and the twin brother of astronaut Scott Kelly. Raised in West Orange, he attended Mountain High School and graduated in 1982.

Kelly earned a B.S in Marine Engineering from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1986, obtained certification as a professional engineer, and obtained an M.S in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California while serving on active duty with the Navy in 1987–92. He flew 39 missions as a combat pilot during Operation Desert Storm before transitioning to NASA’s Astronaut Program where he logged over 50 days aboard Endeavor and Discovery shuttles during four missions between 2001–2011.

In 2019 Mark announced his candidacy for Senator of Arizona to fill Jon Kyl’s seat after he announced his retirement from office shortly after being appointed to fill John McCain’s seat after he passed away that same year due to brain cancer complications. In 2020 Mark won the election becoming one of two veterans on Congress along with Joni Ernst from Iowa making it the first time two veterans had be elected into office at once since World War II.

Military Career

Mark Kelly’s military career began in 1986 when he joined the United States Navy, after graduating from the United States Merchant Marine Academy. He became a Naval aviator and flew combat missions during Operations Desert Shield and Storm. He also continued to serve after 9/11 and was deployed onboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003.

While serving in the military, Kelly was selected to become a space shuttle mission pilot; he transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut program in 1996, where he built an impressive career, achieving several accolades before retiring from active duty with NASA and the U.S. Navy in 2011 to pursue a career as a public servant.

As an Astronaut, he flew aboard four space shuttle missions:

  • STS-108 Endeavour
  • STS-121 Discovery
  • STS-124 Discovery
  • STS-134 Endeavour – becoming part of only 24 men who have flown aboard more than one space shuttle mission.

Additionally, he served as Commander of STS-134 aboard Endeavour – his fourth and final mission – making him one of only 12 people who have ever held this rank on any U.S. manned spaceflight mission thus far. During his aviation career with NASA alone, Kelly accumulated over 5 total days spent in outer space; it was estimated that his total flight time attached to either a ship or craft tallied up to over 7400 hours – or roughly 311 days – prior to retiring from both NASA and the military officially on October 1st 2011.

Political Career

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly has had a successful political career after joining the US Navy in 1987. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, Kelly achieved the rank of captain before retiring from service in 2011. Kelly was soon after appointed to be the Commander of the crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-124 and later flew as a mission specialist on STS-134.

In 2020, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming the first astronaut to be elected to Congress. Throughout his political career, Kelly has focused on modernizing America’s space infrastructure, encouraging the development of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, and protecting national security interests.

U.S. Senate

In 2020, Mark Kelly made history when he was appointed as Arizona’s first Democratic Senator in nearly 30 years. Having served in the United States Navy as a naval aviator and engineer, Kelly encountered much success in his political career. After declaring his candidacy in 2019, Kelly quickly found success in the polls and secured a win during the Special Election on November 3rd of that year. As Arizona Senator, Kelly works towards preserving natural resources, increasing access to affordable health care while striving to protect the United States Constitution.

Prior to his role in Senate, Mark Kelly had several notable positions including Director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). At NASA he worked closely with experts across all organizations within to reduce costs on many large-scale aerospace programs and was involved in frequent meetings with organizations such as The Aerospace Corporation and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He also maintained relationships with members of governmental agencies such as The Department of Defense as well as international organizations, like The European Space Agency (ESA), aiming to provide greater knowledge exchange between agencies contributing towards their mission goals.

With over 20 years of experience across various governmental leadership roles including U.S. Congressman for Arizona Congressional District 8 for two terms from 2020–2024, Mark has proven himself to be an advocate for strengthening national defense during times of crisis with efforts focusing on promoting science and technology initiatives geared to reinforce America’s security net around its citizens and establish social good through public service opportunities within rural communities facing environmental hazards due to deforestation programs amongst other issues facing rural populations throughout Arizona Districts 8-11.

Political Platform

As Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly campaigns for re-election, he’s hoping to capitalize on his record of strong constituent services and his commitment to bipartisanship. He prioritizes championing ‘kitchen table’ issues such as healthcare and economic security that most directly affect working families and the elderly. He is a vocal advocate of the Arizona Latinx community, commited to passing immigration reform to better support Dreamers and their families.

Sen. Kelly campaigned on principled progressivism by endorsing strong climate policy solutions, passing legislation to protect election security, voting against tax cuts favoring corporations while providing relief for Arizonans with low income, and sponsoring a resolution condemning white-nationalist based violence in response to the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville.

As a military veteran and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Sen. Kelly knows how much is at stake when we elect our leaders – he has been an outspoken critic for increasing gun safety laws in order to make all our communities safer without infringing upon 2nd Amendment rights.

Sen Kelly plans to continue emphasizing heavy constituency services throughout his re-election campaign season leading up the 2022 Senate reality election in Arizona.

Achievements

Arizona Senator Mark Kelly has had a long and distinguished career that is marked by great achievements. He has flown several space missions, including the Space Shuttle’s STS-121 and STS-124. In 2018, he was elected to the United States Senate. He is also a retired US Navy captain and the husband of former congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.

This section will cover his major achievements:

Awards and Recognition

Throughout his lengthy career, Senator Mark Kelly has received many awards and accolades. In 2008, he was the recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, the highest honor given by the United States to members of the civilian astronaut corps. He also received an honorary doctorate from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2009 in recognition of his work leading shuttle mission STS-124.

In 2011 and 2012, Kelly was awarded a Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service for his exemplary performance as one of NASA’s top astronauts and for working with DoD personnel on important space programs. In 2015 and 2016, he was selected as one of GQ Magazine’s “Men of the Year” for advancing science, inspiring those around him and de-stigmatizing mental health issues through his work with veterans returning from combat.

Additionally, Kelly has received numerous honors from universities across the United States including:

  • A visiting Professorship to University College Cork (2015)
  • An honorary doctorate in Humane Letters at Florida Institute Technology (2017)
  • A fellowship conferred by London School Of Economics & Political Science (2018)

Consequently, he also holds a number roles as distinguished guest lecturer at various prestigious institutions including Yale University Law School and Harvard Business School among others.

Legislation and Initiatives

Throughout his time in office, Senator Mark Kelly has been a tireless advocate for Arizona’s families and working individuals. Through legislation, initiatives and outreach efforts, he works to address issues that the state and its residents are facing such as affordable health care, improving veteran services, job growth, border security and immigration reform.

Senator Kelly has introduced a variety of pieces of legislation that address some of these topics. For example, the SAVE Families Act allows responsible immigrants to obtain visas via their employers while also increasing focus on visa fraud prevention and helping to streamline the visa system. Other bills include the ALLCAP Act which authorizes tax credits for military retirees employed in distressed communities; RESILIENT Families Act which expands life insurance options for veterans; CHIP Prioritization Act which extends funding for Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); PADRES Act which prevents discrimination against Hispanic-Latino hospital patients; STEM Opportunities Act which helps reduce student loan debt; Local Community Transparency Protection Act which provides information about non-profit organizations to federal agencies.

In addition to his legislative efforts, Senator Kelly has launched several initiatives aimed at serving Arizona’s veterans who have risked their lives in service of our country. He has spearheaded numerous resource driven leadership programs geared to help returning veterans transition back into civilian life through job connections and counseling resources such as:

  • Operation Veteran Entrepreneur Re-Connect Project (OVER)
  • Post 9/11 Military Quality of Life Initiative (QOL2)
  • Arizona Veterans Supportive Services Program (AVSSP)

These programs have shown immense success better connecting veterans with supportive communities in order to increase long-term success rates that focus on reintegration post military service.

Personal Life

Mark Kelly is an American astronaut and politician who currently serves as a United States Senator from Arizona. He is married to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in 2011 in a shooting incident.

Mark Kelly was born in Orange, New Jersey, and has two daughters and one stepdaughter. He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1987 and later earned a master’s degree from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1995. Kelly has a decorated career in the United States Navy, where he flew combat missions in Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom. He has logged over 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 different aircraft and was Commander of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in its final mission.

Marriage and Family

In 1988, Mark Kelly met U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords at a political event in Tucson, Arizona. They started dating and were married in 2007.

Giffords and Kelly are the parents of three children. Giffords gave birth to her daughter Claudia in 2009, with assistance from a surrogate mother, who made front-page news when she appeared at the couple’s wedding just weeks prior. In 2013, she and Kelly also adopted a son from Ethiopia named Elliot (Eli). Kelly is also stepfather to Christina Giffords Taylor, Gabrielle’s daughter from her previous marriage to Mark E. Taylor III.

In their free time, Gabby and Mark enjoy swimming together and spending time with their children camping, hiking and playing sports around Tucscon:

  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Playing sports

Interests and Hobbies

Mark Kelly is an avid volunteer and public servant with a diverse range of interests and hobbies. Kelly attended the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering and Astronautics, where his love for flight was further reinforced and he subsequently joined the US Navy as a Naval Aviator. He obtained a Master’s Degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School 1998, and has flown multiple fighter jets on missions to Iraq, Kuwait and Bosnia-Herzegovina before retiring as captain in 2011.

In addition to his responsibilities as Senator, Kelly also holds many other interests and hobbies including photography, travel, exercise, woodworking, snow skiing and outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. He is also an active participant in various volunteer programs around Arizona that involve mentorship for young students in STEM fields – science, technology engineering & mathematics – in order to encourage interest in those subjects within his state.

Kelly can often be seen biking around Tucson or participating in various activities with fellow veterans or military personnel in their area – he often joins them for basketball games at local parks or golf outings during holidays like Memorial Day or Veterans Day. Additionally he loves spending time outdoors with family on trips across the vast nature that makes up Arizona’s beautiful landscape – from desert cacti-laden plateaus to mountain hikes with breathtaking views!

Legacy

As a United States senator, Mark Kelly has accomplished many great feats in his career and has achieved a lasting legacy. He has been a champion for human rights, veterans, and the environment. His work has utilized innovative strategies and brought new perspectives to the Senate. He has been an important voice in the national conversation on multiple issues.

We will take a look at his life story and accomplishments in detail in this biography.

Impact on Arizona and US Politics

Senator Mark Kelly’s impact on Arizona and US politics is undeniable. In 2020, he was elected to the US Senate in a historic victory. Since then, he has made it his mission to advocate for issues that are important to Arizonans, including healthcare, the environment, and national security.

During his time in office, Senator Kelly has strongly advocated for improving Arizona’s education system and access to healthcare. He is a strong supporter of expanding Medicaid coverage and expanding access to affordable health care options. To protect our environment, he has proposed legislation establishing stiffer emissions standards for vehicles sold in Arizona as well as expanding renewable energy incentives. He also supports the protection of public lands and an inclusive economy with good wages and benefits for everyday people.

At the national level, Senator Kelly has pushed hard on infrastructure investment and job creation endeavors in Arizona that will have long-term impacts both locally and across the US. His proposals include:

  • Making sure any infrastructure investments create jobs;
  • Providing funds that are targeted toward repairing roads, bridges, wastewater systems;
  • Creating more green jobs;
  • Increasing access to broadband;
  • Investing in small businesses through expanded Small Business Administration loan programs;
  • Minimizing student loan debt burdens;
  • Advocating for science-based solutions when it comes to climate change mitigation efforts.

As an advocate for commonsense gun safety reform measures such as increased background checks and stricter gun regulations following pertinent tragedies like the mass shooting at Tucson’s Safeway Store in 2011 or major events like the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, Senator Kelly is also part of a select group of legislators from both sides of the aisle who strongly advocate for criminal justice reform measures such as extending voter rights for prisoners upon release or ending unnecessary solitary confinement policies within our prisons. His passionate advocacy on gun safety alone puts him ahead of many leaders nationally on what had become an exhaustive gridlock point amongst many US politicians prior to his service. Additionally, his actions further create ripples throughout local governments starting with accountable budgeting measures that are aimed at providing meaningful relief from their respective taxation structures.

In short, Mark Kelly’s impact on not only Arizona but now United States politics as a whole is one that should be celebrated as it continues refocusing focus points amongst Congressional debates both within party lines or across them while also enacting consequential change regardless which way those debates sway.