Gabrielle Giffords, Mark Kelly
AP
A photo taken before Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was injured shows her with her husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly.
By
updated 4/25/2011 1:22:51 PM ET 2011-04-25T17:22:51

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is set to reach an important milestone this week when she ventures from her Houston rehabilitation hospital for the first time to watch her astronaut husband rocket into space history.

Giffords and her doctors set the Cape Canaveral, Fla., trip as a goal early on in her rehabilitation. It was the hope of her husband, Mark Kelly, too as he trained to lead NASA's next-to-last space shuttle flight.

On Monday, doctors at TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital confirmed the congresswoman will fly to Florida to watch Kelly command the space shuttle Endeavour when it makes its final flight to the International Space Station.

The doctors said Giffords is "medically able" to travel and that they view the trip as part of her rehabilitation from a Jan. 8 gunshot wound to the head. The congresswoman was wounded in a mass shooting that killed six people in Tucson, Ariz.

It seems an extraordinary accomplishment now, that she would be able to attend the liftoff and that Kelly would feel comfortable leaving her side to fly into space. The launch is set Friday afternoon, and President Barack Obama and his wife and two daughters will be there too. However, it's unclear whether they'll sit with Giffords.

Kelly reported his wife said "awesome" and fist-pumped when doctors told her she could attend the launch, according to a transcript of an interview with CBS's Katie Couric that will be broadcast Monday on the Evening News.

For brain injured patients like Giffords, goals and outings are key to rehab. Setting goals helps patients work toward something tangible, doctors say, while trips and outings can be used to reintroduce them to the community and see how they interact in different situations.

"We routinely allow patients outside visits as part of their rehabilitation," said Dr. Gerard Francisco, lead physician of the brain injury rehabilitation team and chief medical officer at TIRR. Francisco also is chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School.

Attending the launch is an "opportune time" for Giffords to continue her therapy progression, he added in a statement.

It's unclear whether doctors from the Texas hospital will travel with Giffords to Florida. The last time the congresswoman flew was when she was transported on a private jet to Houston from the hospital in Tucson, Ariz., that treated her immediately after the shooting.

This time, however, her flight is not an ambulance transport and the trip will be considered another part of the intensive rehabilitation she has been undergoing since arriving in Houston in late January.

Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said the congresswoman's Florida trip is "great news."

"Attending the launch is something the congresswoman has been working toward and something that's important for her, her family and her staff," Karamargin said. "It's another significant milestone in her recovery."

ABC and CBS News initially reported on Sunday that doctors had given Giffords the green light to attend the launch.

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The launch is scheduled for Friday at 3:47 p.m. Eastern. Kelly and his crew have been in quarantine — to prevent them from getting sick before or during the mission — since Friday and will be arriving in Cape Canaveral on Tuesday.

Kelly told Couric days ago when the interview was taped that he and his wife were a team in a Scrabble game — and won. It was the most recent glimpse into Giffords' progress, which has been tightly guarded by her family and the hospital.

Kelly said Giffords is writing with her left hand because her right side is still impaired, and she requires assistance to walk.

She still speaks slowly and it takes her time to formulate thoughts and words, but he said improvement can be seen every few days or each week.

"When I get back . in a few weeks . she's going to be noticeably different than when I left. I mean I know that's the case. So it's exciting to see the improvement, day to day and week to week. It's really exciting," Kelly told Couric.

Shortly after the launch, Giffords will return to Houston, though the hospital said details about her travel arrangements will not be released.

While she is in Florida, "provisions have been made with NASA" regarding her care, the hospital said. It remains unclear whether there will be updates on her arrival in Florida or her return to Houston.

Families view launches at Kennedy Space Center from a restricted area, and there are no plans for Giffords to make a public appearance.

NASA for the past few weeks has had launch management officials scouting locations and working with Giffords' staff on "whatever particular needs she would require," Kennedy Space Center spokesman Allard Beutel said. He referred to the congresswoman's staff for details on her requirements and schedule.

But, he said, this is different from NASA's normal accommodations for astronauts' families, which usually watch lift-offs from the launch control center's roof — an area accessible only by stairs, Beutel said.

"I don't think we've ever had this kind of situation where this level of injury occurred so close to a launch," Beutel said Monday.

Giffords went to Kelly's last launch in 2008, when he commanded the space shuttle Discovery. The two married in 2007.

Giffords was shot while at a meet-and-greet with constituents in the parking lot of a Tucson, Ariz., shopping center. A gunman killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the attack and is in custody.

Giffords has not been seen publicly since the shooting and has spent the past three months relearning how to speak, walk and take care of herself. She has been singing — as part of musical therapy — asking for her favorite foods and visiting with family, friends and her rabbi.

Kelly returned to training for the shuttle launch in February after taking time off to be at his wife's hospital bedside.

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Endeavour's two-week trip will be the last for that shuttle and the next-to-last shuttle mission. Shuttle Atlantis will close out the 30-year shuttle program this summer. Kelly and five crewmates will deliver a $2 billion physics experiment to the International Space Station, as well as critical spare parts to keep the orbiting outpost running for another decade.

More about Giffords' condition and Endeavour's flight:

NASA has set up a special Web page for sending messages to Giffords' NASA family, including Mark and Scott Kelly: http://tinyurl.com/NASAmessages.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Giffords cleared to attend shuttle launch

  1. Closed captioning of: Giffords cleared to attend shuttle launch

    >>> it's been more than three months now since congresswoman gabby giffords was shot as she met with constituents at a tucson, arizona, grocery store. tonight, she got good news and we have gathered more information on her condition and her recovery. janet shamly in with us from houston with that story. janet , good evening.

    >> reporter: hi, brian . this is going to be a quick trip for her, but doctors say it's osa good break and a goal she's been working towards. it was news gabrielle giffords reportedly greeted with a fist pump and the word awesome. doctors calling her medically able to travel to kennedy space center for friday's launch of "endeavour." she'll watch the launch way out of public few. it with also reunite heroes and victims of the january attack. she's made remarkable progress in her rehabilitation, and we saw no reason why she couldn't travel safely to florida. and there's new information about her recovery. jamie rowe said she now knows others were killed and hurt in the rampage after grabbing a newspaper from her husband's hands.

    >>> immediately, she was so upset and cry, and he comforted her and tried to talk to her about it, and she kept repeating, no, no, no, no, so many people, so many people.

    >> reporter: physicallyering her hair is growing bang. a long scar across her forehead is healing, and with limited use of her right side, she's become a lefty. for an upcoming special, staffers told brian everything is going in the right direction.

    >> full recognition, full facial features, full verbal skills?

    >> no, she clearly has challenged. we're just three months after a severe injury to her brain, and we can't forget that. so she has physical and verbal challenges, but the great sense of optimism is coming from her rate of recovery.

    >> reporter: doctors say they're working with giffords on speaking in longer sentences, and they report she's very close to a real milestone. brian . janet with our update tonight.

Photos: The life of space shuttle Endeavour

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  1. Special delivery

    Endeavour was the last space shuttle to join NASA's fleet: It was built to replace the shuttle Challenger, which was lost in an explosion shortly after launch in 1986. This view shows Endeavour perched atop a modified Boeing 747 on May 2, 1991, beginning the ferry flight from Palmdale, Calif. - where the shuttle was built - to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. First liftoff

    Endeavour lifts off from Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 1992, beginning its first mission. The STS-49 mission's primary task was the repair of the Intelsat VI telecommunications satellite. Endeavour was the only shuttle to make its maiden flight from Pad 39B. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Grab that satellite!

    Endeavour astronauts Richard Hieb, Thomas Akers and Pierre Thuot hold onto the 4.5-ton Intelsat VI satellite after making a six-handed "capture" on May 13, 1992. The satellite failed to rise above low Earth orbit when it was launched in 1990. During Endeavour's maiden mission, astronauts retrieved the satellite, attached it to a new upper-stage booster and relaunched it to its intended geosynchronous orbit. This mission marked the first time that three people from the same spacecraft walked in space at the same time. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Science in space

    Endeavour astronauts Jan Davis, left, and Mae Jemison prepare to deploy the lower body negative pressure apparatus on Sept. 15, 1992. Scientific research was the main focus of this Spacelab-J mission, also known as STS-47. The mission's crew included the first African-American woman to fly in space (Mae Jemison) and the only husband-and-wife team to go into space together (Jan Davis and Mark Lee). (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fixing Hubble

    Astronauts flew on Endeavour to take on the first Hubble servicing mission in December 1993. In this picture, spacewalkers Story Musgrave and Jeffrey Hoffman perform an orbital ballet. The coastline of western Australia is visible below. The complex and highly successful repair mission allowed Hubble, which was launched with a defective mirror, to see into the universe with unprecedented clarity. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Building the station

    Endeavour spacewalker Jim Newman holds onto the International Space Station's Unity connecting module as he removes covers and works on connecting cables on Dec. 7, 1998. The STS-88 flight marked the shuttle fleet's first space station assembly mission. (AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Erroneous endeavor

    The shuttle Endeavour sits on its launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 11, 2007. "Endeavor" is spelled incorrectly on the banner. The shuttle was named after the HMS Endeavour, the British sailing ship that carried Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery from 1768 to 1771. That's why Endeavour reflects the British spelling of the word. (Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Spacewalkers at work

    During the first spacewalk of the STS-118 mission, on Aug. 11, 2007, astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Canada's Dave Williams (out of frame) attach a new segment of the International Space Station's truss and retract a collapsible radiator. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Class portrait

    The crew members of Endeavour's STS-118 crew pose for their official portrait on Aug. 8, 2007. From left are Rick Mastracchio, Barbara Morgan, pilot Charles Hobaugh, mission commander Scott Kelly, Tracy Caldwell, Canadian astronaut Dave Williams and Alvin Drew. During this flight, Morgan became the first educator astronaut to go into orbit. In 1986, she was the backup for Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who died in the Challenger explosion. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Great view

    Endeavour spacewalker Rick Mastracchio relocates communications equipment on the International Space Station during an outing on Aug. 15, 2007. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A gouge in the tiles

    Tiles on the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour show evidence of damage in a photo taken on Aug. 12, 2007, using the shuttle's robotic arm and a camera-tipped extension boom. The close-up imagery helped mission managers determine that the gouge would pose no threat during Endeavour's atmospheric re-entry. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Eye of the hurricane

    Crew members aboard the shuttle Endeavour captured this picture of Hurricane Dean's eye in the Caribbean on Aug. 18, 2007. The STS-118 mission ended on Aug. 21, one day earlier than planned, to avoid potential complications due to the storm. Forecasters worried that Hurricane Dean could have swept over Houston around the time of landing - but in the end, the storm took a different course. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In control

    NASA Administrator Michael Griffin watches the liftoff of the space shuttle Endeavour from the Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 14, 2008. The STS-126 mission delivered two spare bedrooms as well as a second kitchen and bathroom to the International Space Station. (Bill Ingalls / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Repairs at the pad

    Workers perform repairs on the shuttle Endeavour's external fuel tank at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad on June 14, 2009. The launch team detected a leak of hydrogen fuel from the tank, forcing a delay in Endeavour's STS-127 launch. The mission's main task was the delivery of the final segment of Japan's Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station. (Tim Jacobs / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lightning strikes

    A giant bolt of lightning hits Endeavour's Florida launch pad on July 10, 2009. Technical problems and severe weather forced five delays in Endeavour's STS-127 launch. (Gene Blevins / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Liftoff at last!

    The space shuttle Endeavour rises from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A on July 15, 2009, on the STS-127 mission's sixth launch attempt. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Parting glance

    The space shuttle Endeavour is photographed from the International Space Station soon after its departure on July 28, 2009. A Soyuz spacecraft docked at the station is visible in the foreground. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Twilight of the shuttle

    The shuttle Endeavour is silhouetted against different layers of the sunlit atmosphere during its approach to the International Space Station on Feb. 9, 2010. The primary payloads for Endeavour's STS-130 mission were the Tranquility module and the Cupola observation deck and control station. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Check out this view!

    Astronaut George Zamka, Endeavour's commander for the STS-130 mission, peeks out a window of the International Space Station's newly installed Cupola observation deck on Feb. 19, 2010. The Cupola provides an unparalleled view of Earth below. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Tanks for the memories

    The external fuel tank for Endeavour's final mission, STS-134, is transported to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 14, 2010. STS-134's main payload is the $2 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, an international physics experiment. (John Raoux / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The view from above

    The space shuttle Endeavour is lowered into place for attachment to its external fuel tank and solid rocket boosters in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 1, 2011. (NASA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Greeting the day

    The sun rises as photographers gather on a hill to take pictures shortly after the shuttle Endeavour's arrival at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A on March 11, 2011. (Roberto Gonzalez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Into the clouds

    Photographers track the space shuttle Endeavour's ascent as it pierces the clouds and disappears after launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16. (Craig Rubadoux / Daytona Beach News-Journal via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Godspeed, Endeavour!

    Spectators react as the space shuttle Endeavour lifts off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16. Hundreds of thousands of people watched the start of the next-to-last space shuttle flight. (Scott Audette / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Above the clouds

    Stefanie Gordon captured this remarkable picture of the space shuttle Endeavour rising above Florida's cloud cover on May 16 while she was on a commercial flight from New York to Palm Beach, Fla. (Stefanie Gordon / for msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. The last spacewalk

    NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff holds a handrail during the fourth and last spacewalk conducted by the shuttle Endeavour's crew at the International Space Station on May 27. Chamitoff and astronaut Michael Fincke (visible in the reflections from Chamitoff's helmet visor) transferred an inspection boom system, completing U.S. assembly of the station. The May 27 outing marked the last scheduled spacewalk to be conducted by a space shuttle crew. (Nasa T.V. via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Night passage

    Backdropped by a nighttime view of Earth and the starry sky, the space shuttle Endeavour is seen docked to the International Space Station on May 28. (NASA via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Landing in the dark

    The space shuttle Endeavour lands for the last time at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 1, 2011. The touchdown capped Endeavour's 16-day mission to deliver a $2 billion science experiment to the International Space Station on NASA's next-to-last shuttle flight. (Joe Skipper / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Blastoff into history

    A NASA poster pays tribute to Endeavour and its space missions over the past two decades. The shuttle is shown rising to orbit, with patches for each of its missions laid out in a spiral. The HMS Endeavour, which inspired the spaceship's name, is shown at lower right. At upper left, pictures of Endeavour are framed in the windows of the Cupola. The background image depicts the nebula NGC 602 as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope, which was first serviced by Endeavour in 1993. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (29) Shuttle Endeavour, this is your life
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    Slideshow (12) Month in Space: January 2014

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