Gabrielle Giffords Steps Down From Congress

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, wife of retired astronaut Mark Kelly announced her retirement from Congress Jan. 22, 2012.
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, wife of retired astronaut Mark Kelly announced her retirement from Congress Jan. 22, 2012. (Image credit: Gabrielle Giffords)

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a gunshot to the head a year ago, is stepping down from office, she announced Sunday (Jan. 22).

The Congresswoman, wife of retired NASA astronaut Mark Kelly and a former member of several congressional committees on science and space, will take a break from politics to focus on her health and rehabilitation.

"I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week," Giffords said in a video message posted on her Facebook website. "Arizona is my home, always will be. A lot has happened over the past year; we cannot change that. But I know, on the issues we fought for, we can change things for the better: jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together."

Other members of Congress expressed their respect and affection for her at the news.

"I am very sorry that our friend and colleague, Gabrielle Giffords, will leave the Congress this week," Congressman Jerry Costello (D-IL) said in a statement. "She has been an outstanding member, thoughtful and focused, and determined to make an impact for her constituents, state and the nation.  And in that, there is no doubt she has been successful.  She has handled the aftermath of her attack and her recovery with tremendous courage and grace, inspiring the nation and the world, and I know that she will continue to make a positive difference in whatever she does."

Captain Mark Kelly hugs his wife Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after receiving the Legion of Merit from Vice President Joe Biden during Captain Kelly's retirement ceremony in the Secretary of War Suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, in Washington, D.C., Oct. 6, 2011. (Image credit: White House Photo by David Lienemann)

At the time of the shooting, Giffords held seats on the House Science and Technology and House Armed Services committees, and had served as chairwoman of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

"Representative Giffords has served the American people with distinction as a member of Congress over the past five years, and she has been a friend and colleague on the committee," said Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) in a statement. "Her bright and energetic personality, her incredible work ethic, and her willingness to reach across the aisle have made her a real asset to Congress and to this committee."

Giffords defied the odds by living, and then making a remarkable recovery, after being shot through the head at point-blank range while meeting with constituents at a Tucson, Ariz. grocery store Jan. 8, 2011. Six people were killed in the attacks, and 13 were injured.

"I don't remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice," Giffords said. "Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover."

Kelly, who was training to command the second-to-last space shuttle mission at the time, took a break to be by his wife's side, but ultimately returned to training in time to launch on NASA's 134th shuttle flight - the last flight of shuttle Endeavour - in May 2011. Giffords watched the liftoff in person from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

A month later, Kelly announced his retirement from NASA. While some speculated he may try his hand in politics while Giffords recovers, the spaceman said he would leave that arena to his wife. [Photos: Astronaut Mark Kelly & Gabrielle Giffords]

"She's the politician and I'm the space guy, and I see no reason to change that now," Kelly said last summer.

Giffords, meanwhile, maintains that she would like to return to work when she's ready.

"I am getting better every day," she said in the video. "My spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country."

The couple met in 2003, during a leadership conference in China. They married in 2007. Giffords wears a ring from Kelley that reads "You're the closest to heaven that I've ever been."

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.