The space shuttle Endeavour took off Monday morning, with astronaut Mark Kelly commanding and his injured wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, watching from the roof of the Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center with other astronauts' family members.
Endeavour, on its last mission ever, launched as scheduled at 8.56 a.m. President Obama and his family were scheduled to watch the last attempt to launch Endeavour on April 29 but they were not on hand Monday morning.
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Giffords, D-Ariz., is recovering from head injuries after she was shot and six people killed in an attack in January. She has made a remarkable recovery, her doctors say, although she has not appeared publicly and will not appear publicly Monday. She has been undergoing treatment in Houston, where Kelly and the other astronauts have been training.
Giffords met with other spouses of astronauts, her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, told a news conference after the launch. Giffords ate lunch with Kelly Sunday at NASA's beach house on Cape Canaveral.
She watched the launch from a wheelchair, wearing Kelly's wedding ring on a chain aorund her neck. Kelly carried Giffords' ring with him onto the shuttle, Carusone said.
Obama was in Memphis visiting residents flooded out of their homes on Monday morning, and later spoke at a high school graduation.
Last month's launch was cancelled just before the crew boarded when a heating system malfunctioned.
"This mission represents the power of teamwork, commitment and exploration," Kelly said shortly before liftoff. "It is in the DNA of our great country to reach for the stars and explore."
While around 750,000 people crowded central Florida for the last attempt, NASA estimates around 400,000 were in the area to watch on Monday. Kelly and five other astronauts will spend 16 days orbiting the earth. The shuttle is scheduled to land June 1.