CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Rings, a private note and red tulips connect wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to her husband, Mark Kelly, while he commands the 16-day space mission of shuttle Endeavour.
Giffords, the Arizona Democrat recovering from a gunshot wound to the head she received in a January assassination attempt, watched from the roof of Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center with other astronauts' family members Monday morning as Endeavour blasted toward space.
She made no public appearances, as she has not since a gunman shot her, killed six bystanders and wounded 12 others during a shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz. But her trip from a rehabilitation hospital in Houston and her efforts to watch and celebrate her husband's fourth trip into space, as described Monday afternoon by her staff, gave indications of how she is doing.
Giffords met with other astronaut wives Sunday and Monday, standing to greet them with hugs, said her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, at a news conference after the launch. Giffords also spent two hours with Kelly on Sunday, including eating lunch at NASA's astronaut beach house on Cape Canaveral.
She also met with two of her congressional staff members, press secretary Mark Kimble and new media strategist Ashley Nash-Hahn. For Kimble, who came from Tucson, it was the first time he'd seen her since shortly after the shooting. For the Washington-based Nash-Hahn, it was the first time she'd seen her boss since Giffords was wounded.
Giffords and Kelly exchanged their wedding rings, and the congresswoman wore her husband's ring around her neck on a chain at the launch. She also gave her husband a private note she wrote herself, "which they hid on the shuttle," Carusone said. After Endeavour reached orbit Monday, Mark Kelly's twin brother, Scott Kelly, who also is an astronaut, presented her with red tulips from Mark.
Though she is able to stand, Giffords watched the launch while sitting in a wheelchair, cheering and clapping as the rocket disappeared into the clouds, Carusone said.
"I think relief was her biggest feeling. She was very proud. She's always proud of Mark and what he does. It was an exciting moment," Carusone said.
It is unclear whether Giffords will return for Endeavour's landing, scheduled for 2:32 a.m. June 1.
In the interim, she may undergo cranialplasty surgery to replace part of her skull that surgeons removed after the shooting to relieve pressure on her brain. However, the procedure is not yet scheduled.
She travels with two nurses. NASA provided the transportation, as it does for all astronaut families. Carusone said Giffords has no problem traveling.
Carusone said Giffords understands, "if not everything, close to everything," including sarcasm.
Decisions on when she might return to active service in Congress will have to wait, Carusone said. Any public appearances will wait at least until after the cranialplasty.