U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is doing “remarkably well” in her recovery from the brain injury she suffered in a shooting in January, her astronaut husband said Thursday, but she is only now absorbing the implications of the experience.
Mark Kelly, the commander for next month's flight of the shuttle Endeavour, told reporters during a NASA news conference that there was a "pretty good chance" Giffords would attend the launch, now set for April 19.
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Giffords wants to attend the launch but is awaiting final approval from her doctors, Kelly said.
"She's starting to process some of the tragedy that we all went through in January ... she's going through that as we speak," Kelly said. "Despite that, she remains in a very good mood."
Giffords is undergoing treatment at a Houston rehabilitation center, but also gets briefings from her staff, keeps up with what's going on in Congress, and receives visitors for short periods of time, Kelly said. "I see her every morning before I go to work, and when I come home from work at the end of my day," he said.
NASA set up Thursday's news conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston to give reporters an opportunity to meet with the crew for next month's mission, known as STS-134. The mission is notable on several counts: It will mark Endeavour's final flight before its retirement, as well as the second-last mission of the space shuttle program. The main objective is to deliver a $2 billion physics experiment known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station.
But it was Kelly's family connection that attracted the most interest on Thursday. Anticipating that angle, Kelly bowed out of the traditional pre-launch interviews with small groups of reporters, and fended off most questions about his personal situation.
"I'd like you to respect the fact that this is about STS-134, and it's not about my wife's recovery," he told reporters. Questions about Giffords should be directed to the congresswoman's office, and not to NASA, he said.
Despite that disclaimer, questions about Giffords' condition — and the potential impact on Kelly's space mission — loomed over the news conference. Kelly as well as his crewmates wore turquoise "Gabby" wristbands as they discussed the upcoming flight.
Kelly said he was able to make a clear separation between his on-the-job preparations for Endeavour's launch and the time he has been spending with Giffords. He observed that many other husbands and wives have had to go on with their careers while caring for an injured spouse.
"I've given this mission everything I would have if the events in January did not happen," he insisted. "So I'm very focused. We're very prepared as a crew."
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who has played a prominent role in congressional space policy, was shot in the head during a gathering with constituents outside a Tucson supermarket on Jan. 8. Six people were killed in the shooting; 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded.
The suspected gunman, 22-year-old college dropout Jared Loughner, was apprehended immediately after the shooting. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges in federal court.
Earlier this month, Giffords' doctors told journalists that the congresswoman's ability to walk and talk is improving. They said she did not remember the shooting, but was told about it by her husband.
Kelly's twin brother, Scott Kelly, is a NASA astronaut who returned to Earth from a months-long stint on the International Space Station last week. Giffords' spokesman, C.J. Karamargin, said "the congresswoman was beaming" when Scott Kelly visited her last Friday.
This week, Scott Kelly cut a series of post-flight media interviews short when journalists persisted in asking about Giffords, even though they were told not to.
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