Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the brain in January, is recovering after surgery to replace part of her skull. The operation took place just days after she waved goodbye to her husband, the commander of the Endeavour space shuttle, Mark Kelly.

Kelly and the Endeavour crew are on a 16-day mission to the International Space station to deliver needed spare parts and a multi-billion dollar physics experiment.

Giffords is recovering at the Memorial Hospital in Houston. The doctors say this is an important step in her miraculous recovery. During the surgery a piece of her skull was replaced with a plastic implant. Part of her skull had been removed during her initial treatment to allow for brain swelling.

Gabrielle Giffords attends the final launch of the Endeavour space shuttle

Gabrielle Giffords is now making amazing progress towards recovery

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On January 8, this year, Giffords was shot in the left side of the brain, in Tucson. Six other people died and 13 were injured in the attack.

Dr Richard Riggs, chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the surgery to place the plastic implant is relatively simple but not without its risks. Giffords will have recovered from the surgery within a day or two.

He told the Daily Mail "This gives her quality of life because she won't have to worry about the helmet and protection when moving around."

Gifford returned to the Houston rehabilitation center where she currently resides on Monday evening following her trip to Cape Canaveral to wave off her husband and the Endeavour launch. She watched the launch in private from the roof of the launch control center. After takeoff she remarked "good stuff" to her staff.

Doctors say she's making remarkable progress. Gifford's next step will be being released from hospital. She will continue to work on her speech, occupations and physical therapy at an outpatient clinic.