Mark Edward Kelly is an American politician, businessman, retired astronaut for NASA, and retired U.S. Navy captain serving as the junior United States senator from Arizona since 2020. A member of the Democratic Party, he won the 2020 special election, narrowly defeating incumbent Republican Martha McSally. Formerly an aerospace consultant and executive, Kelly is the author of several books.
Kelly flew combat missions during the Gulf War as a naval aviator before being selected as a NASA Space Shuttle pilot in 1996. He flew his first space mission in 2001 as pilot of STS-108, piloted STS-121 in 2006, and commanded STS-124 in 2008 and STS-134 in 2011, the final mission of Space Shuttle Endeavour. His identical twin Scott Kelly is also a retired astronaut; they are the only siblings to have both traveled in space.
Kelly's wife, then-Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was shot and nearly killed in an assassination attempt on January 8, 2011. Six people died in the Tucson shooting. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting the following year, Giffords and Kelly founded the nonprofit Americans for Responsible Solutions, later renamed Giffords, which campaigns for gun control like universal background checks for firearms and red flag laws. Kelly won the 2020 United States Senate special election in Arizona and was sworn in on December 2, 2020.
Early life and education
Mark Edward Kelly and twin brother Scott Kelly are the sons of Richard and Patricia (née McAvoy) Kelly, two retired police officers. He is of Irish descent. He was born on February 21, 1964, in Orange, New Jersey, and raised in West Orange, New Jersey. Kelly graduated from Mountain High School in 1982. He received a Bachelor of Science in marine engineering and nautical science from the United States Merchant Marine Academy, graduating with highest honors in 1986. In 1994, he received a Master of Science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
NASA selected both Mark and Scott Kelly to be Space Shuttle pilots in 1996. They joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in August of that year. Mark Kelly has logged over 54 days in space. During his 2006 flight on Space Shuttle Discovery, the second mission after the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia, Kelly discussed the risks of flying the Space Shuttle:
The Space Shuttle's a very complex machine. It's got a lot of moving parts that move and operate at pretty much the limit of what we've been able to engineer. Spaceflight is risky. I think with regards to the tank, we've reduced some of the risk there. We've changed the design a little bit and we've made some pretty big strides in trying to get foam not to shed from the tank anymore. So there is some risk reduction there and I guess overall the risk is probably a little less. But this is a risky business, but it's got a big reward. Everybody on board Discovery and the space station here thinks it's worthwhile.
On February 12, 2019, Kelly announced that he would run as a Democrat in the 2020 United States Senate special election in Arizona. Kelly looked to unseat incumbent Republican Martha McSally, a fellow veteran who was appointed to the position shortly after losing the 2018 Senate election to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. The seat was vacated upon John McCain's death on August 25, 2018, and held by Governor Doug Ducey's appointee Jon Kyl until Kyl resigned on December 31, 2018. Kelly declined to accept campaign contributions from corporate political action committees (PACs), but did accept thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from corporate executives and lobbyists.
The Associated Press called the race for Kelly on November 4, 2020. His election marks the first time since 1953 that Arizona has had two Democratic senators. As the election was a special election, Kelly took office during the 116th Congress, shortly after Arizona certified its election results on November 30, unlike other senators and representatives elected in 2020, who took office at the opening of the 117th Congress on January 3, 2021. Kelly was sworn in at noon on December 2. His term ends in 2023, after which his seat will be occupied by the winner of the 2022 election, in which Kelly is running.
Kelly is the fifth retired astronaut to be elected to Congress, after John Glenn, Bill Nelson, Harrison Schmitt, and Jack Swigert.
Kelly has announced his candidacy for reelection in 2022. As of October 2021, polls show him leading all potential Republican opponents in head-to-head matchups.
On December 2, 2020, Kelly cast his first Senate vote, a "no" vote on the nomination of Kathryn C. Davis to the United States Court of Federal Claims. On December 9, Kelly voted "no" on a resolution blocking President Donald Trump from selling $23 billion in drones to the United Arab Emirates. Kelly split his vote by voting yes on another resolution blocking F-35 sales to the UAE. Both resolutions failed.
In the wake of the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, Kelly expressed support for Vice President Mike Pence and Trump's cabinet invoking the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution to remove Trump from office. He voted to convict in Trump's second impeachment trial, along with 56 other senators.
From December 2020 to November 2021, Kelly had missed 2 of 517 roll call votes.
As of November 2021, Kelly had voted in line with President Joe Biden's stated position 100% of the time.