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. He also gave them cards Mark Kelly had written to them. Astronauts' families watch liftoff in private.
“To all of the millions watching today, including our spouses, children, family and friends... we thank you for your support!” Mark Kelly told those watching the launch.
For some staffers, it was the first time they had seen Giffords since the assassination attempt on January 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.
“To actually see her and talk with her it was a very moving experience and I'm very glad I did," said Mark Kimble, Giffords’ Press Advisor.
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.
With reporting from ABC7's Scott Thuman and the Associated Press.