Prince William and Kate Middleton vs. Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly?

Maybe? NASA delay puts shuttle launch on same day as royal wedding.

April 04, 2011, 12:39 PM

April 4, 2011 — -- Astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, have never met Prince William and his bride, Kate Middleton -- but they may well meet in the headlines on April 29.

A delay by NASA means the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, commanded by Capt. Kelly, is now scheduled for the same day as the royal wedding. Kelly's fight has the added drama of his wife's recovery from the Tucson shooting in January.

If the wedding and the shuttle launch coincide, can the world enjoy two headline stories in one day? Can't the shuttle launch move up a little? Can't the wedding countdown go into a 24-hour hold?

"Tell the royal family that in honor of the wedding, we're lighting a giant Roman candle for them," quipped Kyle Herring of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Endeavour's six astronauts have been training and planning for their two-week trip to the International Space Station.

In all seriousness, though, NASA realized over the weekend that it faced a traffic jam, even in the void of space 200 miles above the Earth's surface. The shuttle launch -- already pushed back from February by problems with the previous shuttle, Discovery -- had been set for April 19, but NASA managers decided after a Sunday meeting not to try.

If you want someone to blame, try the Russians. On April 27, they are scheduled to launch a Progress supply ship to the space station, and on Sunday they told their American counterparts they could not delay it. Some of its cargo is perishable.

"When you have an international partnership you have to consider all the partners," said Herring.

It's complicated. If Endeavour had tried to launch on the 19th, and delayed just a few days, it might still have been docked to the station when the Russian Progress ship arrived. NASA has rules about having a remote-controlled cargo ship dock with the station while a space shuttle is also there (an earlier version of the Progress collided with Russia's Mir space station in 1997), so rather than press their luck, they decided to wait 10 days.

Royal weddings are much simpler. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, decide to get married and -- since William happens to be second in line to the English throne -- they book Westminster Abbey for a Friday in April. Thousands of people plan trips to London for the big day. The celebration will be broadcast around the world; even the space station crew may be able to watch clips if they're curious.

For anyone following both events, there will be breathing room between them. The wedding ceremony begins at 11 a.m. London time (6 a.m. in Florida), and the launch is scheduled for 3:47 p.m. EDT (8:47 p.m. London time).

Royal Wedding and Space Shuttle Launch Set for Same Day

Of course, the shuttle launch is getting extra attention because Kelly, you'll recall, almost had to give up his chance to fly because of the injuries to Rep. Giffords, who suffered a brain injury in the January shooting in Tucson. Kelly decided, after several weeks of uncertainty, that she was recovering well enough that he could command the mission. With any luck, Giffords will be able to travel to Florida from rehab in Houston to see the launch.

Giffords, at last report, was talking on the phone, getting daily briefings from her Capitol Hill staff, and "recovering very quickly," according to Daniel Hernandez, an intern in her Tucson office who rushed to help her after the shooting.

"She is improving every day, and in the realm of brain injuries, that is very significant and pretty rare," Kelly said at a March news conference.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events