Shuttle safely takes off with Giffords watching

The space shuttle Endeavour took off Monday morning, with astronaut Mark Kelly commanding and his injured wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, watching.

Endeavour, on its last mission ever, launched as scheduled at 8.56 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The shuttle hit 17,500 m.p.h. as it entered orbit, according to NASA. 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.

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.

The White House says Obama will be in Memphis visiting residents flooded out of their homes on Monday morning.

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 will be in the area to watch on Monday. Kelly and five other astronauts will spend 16 days orbiting the earth.