|Rep. Giffords Appears, Stands Before Crowd|
|By GINA SUNSERI||Jun 27, 2011, 11:07 PM|
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords made her first public appearance in front of a crowd since being shot in the head Jan. 8, rising from her wheelchair to hug and kiss her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, when he received the Spaceflight Medal.
Giffords, D-Ariz., being pushed in a wheelchair, entered to a standing ovation from a crowd of hundreds at the awards ceremony auditorium at Space Center Houston, which is next to the Johnson Space Center.
Her hair was much shorter than in previously published photos. She was wearing glasses, a beige scarf, a light shirt, jeans and sneakers. She smiled and waved to the crowd.
Giffords and Kelly held hands for most of the event. She appeared to chat with people sitting around her, and laughed when the crew of STS-134, the Space Shuttle Endeavour's last mission, was introduced. Kelly commanded the mission.
Giffords left during home movies of the crew, shown during the event.
The Spaceflight Medal is awarded to shuttle astronauts who return safely from their missions.
Giffords, shot in the head at a meet-and-greet event with constituents in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, was released from TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston on June 15 after showing months of "clear, continuous improvement," a hospital spokesman said. She continues to be an outpatient at the hospital.
Jared Loughner allegedly opened fire at the Giffords event, where six people were killed and 13 were injured, including Giffords.
The milestone photos of Giffords were taken by a professional photographer one day after she marked another milestone in her recovery, traveling from Houston to Florida to watch the May 17 launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, captained by her husband.
The photos were the public's first look at Giffords since April 27 when she was seen boarding a plane to Florida.
The day after the shuttle launch, May 18, Giffords was back in Houston, undergoing the surgery to replace a piece of her skull. The injury Giffords received when she was shot in her left forehead led to brain swelling, which required the removal of a portion of her skull to relieve pressure.
As the pictures were released, Giffords' chief of staff Pia Carusone said the congresswoman still was struggling to regain her previous level of communication.
"Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express," Carusone said. "But when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that's where she's had the trouble."
ABC News' Michael S. James, Bob Woodruff and Leezel Tanglao, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.