CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Sitting in a wheelchair atop NASA's launch control center with other astronaut families, wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords watched her husband launch into space Monday aboard space shuttle Endeavour. And she smiled.
Inside Endeavour somewhere is a handwritten personal note she wrote the shuttle commander, her husband Mark Kelly.
The handful of shuttle watchers, including Giffords' nurse, were mostly quiet as Endeavour took flight. It's hard to hear amid the roar of the spacecraft.
Then Giffords said, "Good stuff, good stuff," according to the congresswoman's aide.
Kelly took her wedding ring into space, which he has done on past flights. But this time she wanted something back: his ring to stay on Earth. She had it around her neck on a silver chain from a funky Arizona jewelry store that included a heart and an Arizona map.
"Relief was her biggest feeling," chief of staff Pia Carusone said in a post-launch press conference. "She was very proud. She's always proud of Mark.
"There were hugs around," Carusone said. "It was very celebratory among the families."
After liftoff, Kelly's identical twin Scott gave red tulips to Giffords and a red rose to his brother's two daughters.
There were no photos. Astronauts' families watch liftoff in private.
This is the next to last shuttle flight as NASA winds down the 30-year shuttle program. During the 16-day mission, Giffords will provide two wake-up songs dedicated to Kelly and she will talk to him in a video conference from Houston. She headed back to Houston hours after the 8:56 a.m. launch to return to the rehabilitation center where she is staying.
The Arizona congresswoman was wounded in an assassination attempt in her hometown of Tucson on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 12 others were wounded. Kept out of the public eye since then, Giffords has weakness on her right side, and difficulty speaking.
(This version corrects that shuttle mission is 16 days.)