Astronaut Mark Kelly hugs his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, during a retirement… (David Lienemann / White…)
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to Washington on Thursday for just the second time since the January shooting that nearly took her life, participating in a retirement ceremony to honor her astronaut husband, U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Kelly.
Giffords presented Kelly with the Distinguished Flying Cross medal, which he earned for commanding the fourth and final flight on the space shuttle Endeavour this summer. But the Arizona Democrat was just as much in the spotlight during the event, presided by Vice President Biden in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds.
"As vice president I get to work with an awful lot of people who devote their lives day to day to public service. But it's not every day you encounter examples of sheer, sheer courage, selflessness and dedication, like you see in this couple," Biden said.
Speaking specifically to Giffords, Biden said she was an "inspiration."
"I don't use the word loosely," he said. "You've been inspirational, people looking, saying 'I can make it, I can do this.' "
Kelly thanked those present, including top congressional Democrats and NASA and military leaders, for being "in our corner" during the last eight months.
"Gabby, you remind me every day to deny the acceptance of failure," Kelly said. "I look forward to the next phase of our life together and watching all of your future achievements."
Giffords' last visit to Washington was a surprise, to cast her vote on the deal that ended the summer-long debt ceiling battle.
According to her office, Giffords was not expected to go to Capitol Hill on the current visit, and would fly back to Texas on Thursday afternoon. She and her family had private time earlier with Biden in the West Wing.
Since her release from Houston's TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in June, Giffords has been staying at her husband's League City, Texas, home. Her only other trip outside the Houston area was to Cape Canaveral for the May 16 launch of the Endeavour shuttle mission her husband commanded.
Giffords appeared to be in good spirits, according to a pool reporter present for Thursday's ceremony; her hair has grown out some since she was last seen in early August.