Retired astronaut Mark Kelly delivered an inspirational keynote address at the Monday general session of the American Farm Bureau Federation's 94th Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Kelly, who is one of America's most experienced pilots, sprinkled his uplifting and sometimes humorous remarks with anecdotes about his exceptional career and life with his wife Gabrielle Giffords, the former member of Congress who survived an assassination attempt in January 2011.
Growing up in New Jersey as the child of two police officers set the stage for the philosophy that has guided the down-to-earth Kelly since boyhood. "Have a goal, a plan and then work hard."
He modestly described himself as "an underachiever who had to overcome a lack of natural aptitude" at many of the skills required to succeed as a Naval aviator, test pilot and, later, astronaut. Kelly commanded the last flight of the space shuttle Endeavour in May 2011.
"How good you are at the beginning is not a good indicator of how good you can become," Kelly said. He also shared the inspiration he finds in the strength of his wife, who continues to recover from gunshot wounds. She may have had a bullet shot to her head, but there has never been a dent in her spirit, Kelly noted about his wife. She reminds him nearly every day to "deny the existence of failure."
In his closing comments to the appreciative audience of Farm Bureau members, Kelly shared a few words from Giffords: "Be passionate, be courageous, be strong, be your best."
Kelly has logged more than 6,000 flight hours aboard more than 50 different aircraft. His experience includes 375 aircraft carrier landings, 39 combat missions, more than 50 days in space and service as commander of the space shuttle Endeavour's final mission.
In addition to his experience as an astronaut and Navy captain, Kelly is a prostate cancer survivor and best-selling author. "Moustronaut: A Partially True Story," is a children's book he wrote that is slated for release in October.
During a press conference the inevitable question was asked regarding his views on gun control.
"I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," began Kelly. "I defended it in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the debate is not about public safety."
Kelly said a background check should be mandatory for anyone who wants to purchase a gun. "Americans have a right to defend themselves," said Kelly who admitted he and his wife both own guns.
"Mental illness is a serious issue in this country with relation to guns."