Giffords leaves Houston to attend husband's launch

HOUSTON For the first time since beginning rehabilitation here in Houston after surviving a gunshot wound to the head during an assassination attempt in Tucson in January, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has left the hospital. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, is the commander of the shuttle. Doctors gave her the approval to fly to Florida which is just one more sign of her dramatic road to recovery.

Sources told Eyewitness News that Giffords has left TIRR Memorial Hermann here in Houston for short periods of time, but never for an extended trip like this one.

Security was visible and Eyewitness News was the only station there as Giffords left TIRR at about 8:50 this morning. When she came out of the rehabilitation center, she was loaded into a dark SUV, and a wheelchair was loaded into the back of the vehicle. Giffords was accompanied by a handful of people, some getting into that SUV, others following behind in another vehicle.

Giffords appeared to have some sort of covering on her head, and was escorted by at least two Houston police patrol units as she left for Ellington Field.

From SkyEye 13 HD, Giffords could be seen getting up out of a wheelchair on the tarmac at Ellington Field and walking slowly up the stairs one-by-one to enter NASA's Gulf Stream jet. It is customary for NASA to provide transportation for astronaut's spouses to the launch.

Giffords' office says she'll watch the launch in private, and she does not plan to make any statements or talk with media while in Florida. However, Giffords' communications director and chief of staff do plan to hold a news conference after the launch to discuss her reaction. Her office said she will return to Houston shortly after the launch.

We're told Giffords' plane touched down at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida at 11:47 CT.

Giffords' husband and his crew arrived at Florida's Kennedy Space Center late Tuesday afternoon. Mark Kelly told reporters his wife is excited about making the trip. His wife and three daughters will be at Friday's launch, as will President Obama and the first family.

"She's been working really hard to make sure that her doctors would permit her to come," Mark Kelly said yesterday.

The crew of Endeavour will wear blue bracelets in honor of Giffords.

"The best I can do is send her my love and support and this is what it symbolizes. We sending love and support to Gabby. Gabby, we hope you get better soon, and we're thinking about you, we're praying for you," astronaut Mike Fincke said.

They pray for her, she for them.

On Wednesday morning, the crew of the Endeavour is checking the space shuttle over in anticipation of Friday's launch.

NASA officials say the team is going over a few minor details but nothing major. Late this morning, NASA began loading the fuel cell system. There are some storms rolling into Florida today, but it's expected to be all clear by Friday.

This will be the final mission for Endeavour and President Barack Obama is expected to attend the launch.

"We're in great shape, we're ready to go and right now we're looking forward to an on time launch Friday afternoon," said Mike Leinbach, Shuttle Launch Director.

Endeavour will be on a 14 day mission to take spare parts and tools to the International Space Station.

Eyewitness News is covering the final launch of Endeavour. Reporter Kevin Quinn will be in Florida to cover the launch and you can look for his reports starting tonight at 10pm.

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