WEST ORANGE, NJ — Former NASA astronaut and Naval veteran Captain Mark Kelly, a West Orange native, recently announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat in the State of Arizona.
Kelly, the son of two police officers, was born and raised in West Orange with his identical twin brother and fellow astronaut, Scott. Their names were officially engrained into their hometown in 2016, when West Orange Public Schools renamed Kelly Elementary School, formerly Pleasantdale Elementary School, in their honor.
The senate candidate has lived in the Arizona since 2012 with his wife, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords, helping her to rehabilitate and recover after surviving a shooting in 2011.
After hearing Kelly’s announcement last week, Kelly Elementary School’s faculty, staff, students and principal Dr. Joanne Pollara said they were “#ReadyForLiftOff!”
"We have learned so much from our alumni astronaut about never giving up, doing the work to make your dreams a reality and respecting one another and our planet," said Pollara. "Mark Kelly's service to our nation has been unwavering. It doesn't surprise me that he chooses to continue to serve. [He's] seen our world from a very different perspective and truly understands that although we are a tiny part of the universe, we have an enormous responsibility to one another and to our beautiful earth.
“Mark has shown us the importance of being a problem solver, a thinker, a scientist and a humanitarian. Our students have also learned that in the 21st Century you can have many careers. The answer to the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is no longer a single word."
Listing Kelly’s accomplishments, which include being “a Navy pilot, an astronaut, a scientist, an author,” Pollara expressed her hope that soon “the people of Arizona will elect him Senator and he will continue his work for our nation in Washington.”
“Personally, I have great respect for the work he and his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords are doing for gun control legislation to make our world a safer place,” she said. “He and his brother, Scott, have been very supportive of our school and we will support his new endeavor. We wish him the very best as he moves #FullSpeedAhead."
In 2013, in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Kelly and Giffords co-founded “GIFFORDS,” an organization that unites Americans from all backgrounds, including veterans, law enforcement, gun owners and faith leaders to “reduce gun violence and make our communities safer,” according to Kelly’s campaign website.
In addition to his philanthropic efforts, Kelly has also spent more than 50 days in space and lived on the International Space Station (ISS). His brother has also served on the ISS for a yearlong mission known as the #YearinSpace. The brothers are notable not only because they hail from West Orange, but also because they are the only siblings who have traveled in space.
West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) President Ken Alper also commented on Kelly’s announcement, looking at the future of Kelly Elementary students and students throughout the district.
“I think it’s amazing and just goes to demonstrate how far hard work and dedication can take you,” said Alper. “The lessons Captain Kelly learned right here in the same school that’s now named for him and his brother have taken him to this new level of national prominence, and I hope it inspires all our students—especially the Kelly School student government leaders who got to meet him and Gabby Giffords two months ago when they came to the dedication of the Connie White Library Media Center—I hope we see some future candidates there.”
In the campaign video seen below, Kelly focuses on access to affordable healthcare, the stagnation of wages, job growth, the economy, and the impact that climate change will have on the Arizonan desert.
“We’ve seen this retreat from science and data and facts, and if we don’t take these issues seriously, we can’t solve these problems,” he said in the video.
Kelly hopes to win the senate seat that was once occupied by late Republican Sen. John McCain, who died from brain cancer in August 2018. There will be a special election in 2020, but the seat will be on the ballot for a full six-year term in 2022.