An Iowa-born astronaut is back in his home state for a special date as the launch of space shuttle Atlantis is delayed at least until Friday. Burlington native Jim Kelly says the delays are both annoying and something of a comfort, since it shows NASA is taking no chances with any potential problems.

Kelly says it’s difficult to have any vehicle stored for a long time, whether it’s a car in a garage or a plane in a hangar. He says “You’d expect to have little glitches here and there. It is a relief that we’re looking at those things, we’re taking them seriously and checking out everything we possibly can before we launch one.”

Kelly has twice piloted the shuttle Discovery and says it’ll be tough to watch Atlantis go up on TV while he’s here in Iowa. Kelly says “More than anything, I’m just praying for a safe launch and return of the crew. Having flown it a couple of times, it’s a lot easier to be inside the vehicle than it is to be outside. I’m a heck of a lot more nervous and worried when I’m watching someone else launch than when I’m in there myself. You sit on the sidelines, praying everything goes well and wishing your friends ‘good luck.'”

Kelly hasn’t been yet been assigned for a return trip to orbit, but says he’s energized by the recent unveiling of plans for Orion, the new ship designed to carry astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars.

The 41-year-old veteran of two shuttle missions is speaking at several eastern Iowa schools and at the reunion of Muscatine High’s Class of 1956. “My mom invited me back for her 50th high school reunion. Unfortunately, my father passed away several years ago so I’m her date for that — a little payback for a lifetime of help she’s given me.”