Giffords Attends Launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour
The stars shine especially bright for America today. The triumphant launch of the space shuttle Endeavour was accentuated by the presence of a healthy and happy Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head just four months ago, cheered as she watched the space shuttle Endeavour, with husband Mark Kelly aboard, blast off from the Kennedy Space Center.
Giffords was critically wounded during an assassination attempt on January 8, 2011 while addressing her constituents in front of a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed and thirteen more were injured. Despite the crushing odds, she has been steadily improving ever since.
Giffords and President Barack Obama were first in Florida on April 29, when Endeavour was originally slated to launch. That liftoff was scrubbed because of a problem with a heater aboard the shuttle. But on Saturday, NASA officials said the heater problem had been fixed and the shuttle was "good to go" for its scheduled Monday takeoff.
Endeavour is expected to dock at the International Space Station on Wednesday morning.
The items the shuttle is delivering to the station include spare parts, a high-pressure gas tank and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, which NASA describes as a state-of-the-art particle physics detector. The detector is part of "a new experiment designed to reveal the origin and structure of the universe," NASA said.
However, earlier today, there was concern that the launch would be canceled because of overcast skies. But once the sun came out, the apprehension quickly lifted.
In a news conference after the launch, Pia Carusone, Giffords’ chief of staff, says the mood was "very celebratory" as Giffords sat with her mother and family members of other astronauts to watch Endeavour's take-off:
"It was a great day," said Carusone. "We've been looking forward to this for several weeks."
When asked how Giffords reacted to the liftoff, Carusone said there were more cheers and clapping than words, but that Giffords also declared a resounding, "good stuff, good stuff!"
Two nurses working 12-hour shifts accompanied Giffords to the space center. The congresswoman returned to the TIRR Memorial Hermann center in Houston, TX to continue her rehabilitation this afternoon.
Endeavour is scheduled to return to Earth on June 1, but Carusone said she is not sure if Giffords would return to Florida for the landing. The decision will be "up to her and her doctors.”
Giffords' recovery, which doctors have called remarkable, has garnered an outpouring of support from around the world.
"The presence of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at the launch inspired us all, just as America's space program has done for the past 50 years," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden wrote in a blog post shortly after Endeavour's liftoff.
Indeed, Giffords and Kelly have redefined “impossible,” both in this world and beyond.