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Loftiest of love stories to lift nation's spirit Rising above tragedy, the romance of astronaut Mark Kelly and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is in the spotlight as she's expected to attend Friday's space shuttle launch.

Looking back on the horror of that Saturday in January, this seems miraculous today: that Mark Kelly would indeed command the next-to-last space shuttle flight and that his wounded wife, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, would be here in Florida watching.

Yet that is what is expected to happen at 3:47 p.m. Friday.

In an interview that is scheduled to air tonight on "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric," Kelly said Giffords' doctors had given her permission to travel to Cape Canaveral for the launch of Endeavour.

"I've met with her doctors, her neurosurgeon and her doctors, and they've given us permission to take her down to the launch," Kelly said in the interview in Houston.

The Kelly-Giffords ordeal has been a national drama since Jan. 8, when the congresswoman was shot in the head at a meet-and-greet event in her hometown of Tucson.

The couple's love story -- her struggle to survive a serious brain injury and her remarkable progress, and his devotion to both his wife and NASA -- has overshadowed Endeavour's final voyage and the looming end of the shuttle program.

It's all about Mark and Gabby.

"They're America's sweethearts," said Susan Still Kilrain, a former astronaut who piloted two missions aboard the shuttle Columbia.

The astronaut, 47, and the congresswoman, 40, had been married just three years when a bullet changed everything. The shooting rampage outside a supermarket left six dead and 13 wounded, including Giffords.

Kelly figured he would be at his wife's bedside in the intensive-care unit for "maybe two, four, six months." That's what her trauma surgeon and neurosurgeon warned him, in the hours after the shooting.

"I'm pretty sure I'm done," he told his boss, NASA chief astronaut Peggy Whitson.

For several weeks, Johnson and his crewmates didn't know whether Kelly would fly the April mission or whether the flight might be delayed.

But as the days went by, Giffords made steady progress.

After a monthlong leave, Kelly returned to work in February at Johnson Space Center, bringing his wife with him to Houston for rehab. It's what she would have wanted, he assured journalists.

As he resumed training, his wife's full days of rehab were paying off. A report Sunday in the Arizona Republic says Giffords can walk a little and is even trying to improve her gait.

The congresswoman uses her left side and has begun making limited use of her right arm and leg, a common effect of a bullet wound on the left side of the brain, said Dr. Gerard E. Francisco, chief medical officer at Houston's TIRR Memorial Hermann who works with Giffords daily.

Giffords speaks most often in a single word or declarative phrase such as "love you" or "awesome," according to those close to her.

She longs to leave the rehab center, repeating, "I miss Tucson." When that day comes, Giffords told nurse Kristy Poteet, she plans to "walk a mountain."

Kelly settled into a routine: early mornings with Giffords, taking her a newspaper and a cup of her favorite nonfat latte with cinnamon on top, then straight to the Johnson center for a long day of training, then back to the rehab center to say goodnight to his wife.

Before the tragedy, the two split their time among Texas, Arizona and Washington, hooking up on as many weekends as possible. The shooting brought them together practically every day until Friday. As is the custom one week before liftoff, Kelly and his crew went into quarantine.

Dr. Anna Fisher, a NASA manager for future spacecraft, said it's natural that the world is focused more on the Kelly-Giffords drama than Endeavour's grand finale, though she thinks that all the previous 133 shuttle flights should have gotten more attention.

"Whenever everything goes well, nobody pays attention," she added. "It's only when you have your Challengers, your Columbias or, like now, Mark's wife, Gabby, being shot," said Fisher, one of NASA's first female astronauts.

Indeed, journalists have descended in droves on NASA news conferences -- those with or about Kelly -- in a way not seen since shuttle flights resumed in 2005 following the 2003 loss of Columbia, which broke up on re-entry.

It will be the 25th and final flight of Endeavour, NASA's youngest shuttle that was built to replace Challenger, which exploded during launch in 1986. Endeavour first soared in 1992.

And it will be the second-to-last shuttle mission, as NASA winds down the 30-year shuttle program with one last fling by Atlantis in early summer.

The five men who will ride into space with Kelly have circled around him, like a band of brothers.

Endeavour astronaut Mike Fincke said Kelly has set a good example for the crew, all veteran space fliers. Kelly will be making his fourth shuttle flight.

"He's able to compartmentalize and he's also able to count on us as his crewmates, while he's dealing with the things that he needs to deal with," Fincke said. "Mark doesn't need to worry. The mission's going to get done."

And, of course, Giffords herself is an inspiration.

"She's on a path to recovery," said crewmate Andrew Feustel, "and that is, I think, allowing us all to just carry on and get done what we need to get done."

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