Giffords' personality "100% there" - husband

You hear the term "remarkable" a lot when doctors describe Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' recovery from an assassination attempt in January. In fact, one doctor puts her in the top 5 percent of patients recovering from her type of brain injury.

This week, she'll travel from rehab in Houston to Florida, where she'll watch her husband Mark Kelly lift off in the space shuttle Endeavour. CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric recently spoke with Kelly about both journeys.


"Fortunately, this is my fourth time going into space, and my second time commanding the space shuttle," Mark Kelly said. "So it's not like I haven't been here before."

Make no mistake - Mark Kelly knows there's nothing routine about being strapped to nearly 4 million pounds of rocket fuel and riding a controlled explosion into space.

Does he get nervous before a launch?

"You know, maybe just a little bit. You realize what the risk is - but you're really focused," Kelly said. "There's a lot going on and a lot of things we need to do. So, you really need to concentrate and, you know, really be on."

(Scroll down to watch the full @katiecouric interview with Mark and Scott Kelly.)

But who could blame Kelly if he has a little more than trajectories and abort scenarios on his mind when Endeavour lifts off on Friday.

Kelly said he's met with his wife's doctors and "They've given us permission to take her down to the launch."

What was her reaction when she got the final go-ahead? "I think she said, 'awesome' and she pumped her fist one more time," Kelly said.

Giffords on OK to attend launch: "Awesome"

He believes his wife may have also been celebrating something else. Going to the launch means a brief respite from the daily grind of rehabilitation that she's been receiving at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston. Kelly said the hard work is paying off.

"She does a couple hours of speech therapy every day, as well as physical therapy and occupational therapy," Kelly said. "Her communication improves, you know, every day or every week - it's just more complex all the time. We were sitting there last night playing Scrabble." Kelly said they were playing on the same team, and they won.

In terms of what it's like to interact with Giffords now, Kelly said, "It just takes her more time. So you really have to be patient. And this experience has taught me a lot of patience. So, just giving her time to compose her thoughts and put the words and sentences together is, you know, at this phase in her recovery really what she needs."

Watch: Kelly on Giffords' plans

Kelly said his wife is now using her left hand to write - she used to use her right hand. The bullet that tore through her brain entered the left hemisphere - which controls speech and movement on the right side of the body.

It's "difficult for her to walk," Kelly said. She still "needs assistance." But, he adds, his wife's personality is "100 percent there."

That, Kelly says, is a major reason he was able to make a guilt-free decision to carry on as commander of the space shuttle Endeavour. "I've got to look at what's the personal risk to me, and what's the reward to our nation in doing this," Kelly said. "And I think the space shuttle program and human space flight in general provides a great deal for our country."

Special Section: Tragedy in Tucson

Making the decision easier, Kelly says, was the support system he and Gabby will have back here on Earth - including his twin brother and fellow astronaut Scott - who was in orbit when the tragedy in Tucson took place.

From space, Scott led a tribute to the victims, "As I look out the window I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not. We are better than this. We must do better."

Scott says now, "You look out the window and you see this incredibly beautiful planet. And we're flying around it every 90 minutes. You can barely even tell that, you know, humans live there. And then when you think about all the bad things that happen and all the bad things that people do to one another on such a beautiful planet. It's hard to come to terms with that."

Scott says he's always known that his brother Mark had the right stuff to carry out his mission. But watching him cope with Gabby's life-altering injury has given him even greater respect for his six-minutes older brother.

"No one's walked in his shoes now with having to be the commander of the space shuttle and also deal with this, you know, very significant personal problem, that does take a lot of his off-duty time," Scott said. "So it's been quite impressive to watch."

Having Giffords in attendance casts an even brighter spotlight on Endeavour's final flight. It's something Mark Kelly will surely be mindful of on Friday.

"When I'm sitting on the launch pad, I have a mirror on the glare shield. I'll be able to hold up and actually look back to where they're watching from," he said. When he gets back in a few weeks, he says his wife will be "noticeably different than when I left. I mean I know that's the case. It's exciting to see the improvement, day to day, and week to week. It's really exciting."

Update: On Tuesday the congresswoman's office released further details of her plans for the launch. Giffords will view the launch with other NASA families and spouses, out of public view. There are no plans to release photos or video of the congresswoman in Florida. Following a NASA post-launch press conference, Giffords' office will brief the media. Those interested may check her social media accounts for the latest news: www.facebook.com/GabrielleGiffords and www.twitter.com/Rep_Giffords

Watch full @katiecouric: Mark and Scott Kelly, below.

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