By Malathi Nayak
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Representative Gabrielle Giffords gave her astronaut husband a medal at his retirement ceremony on Thursday and got a warm welcome on her second visit to Washington since a gunman tried to kill her in January.
Giffords, who is recovering from a bullet wound to the head, smiled resplendently, blew kisses and waved to a small gathering of friends, her two teenage daughters and fellow members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats.
Vice President Joe Biden and Giffords awarded her husband, Naval Captain Mark Kelly, two medals to honor his 25 years of service with the Navy and NASA.
"It's not everyday that you encounter examples of sheer, sheer courage, selflessness and dedication like you see in this couple," Biden said after awarding Kelly the Legion of Merit.
Kelly flew 39 missions during Operation Desert Storm and made four trips into space, including commanding the last mission of the shuttle Endeavour.
"Gabby, you remind me everyday to deny the acceptance of failure, that you inspire devoted public service and make me jealous of true grit and determination," Kelly said as he thanked his wife for her support.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was shot at a public event for constituents in Tucson. Jared Lee Loughner has been charged in the shooting spree that killed six people and wounded 12.
Since January, Giffords has made a remarkable recovery in rehabilitation in Houston and her emotional appearance in Congress this summer has made her a portrait of hope.
Wearing a violet jacket, black pants and sneakers, with her hair longer than in her August appearance, Giffords pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on her husband's jacket.
It was unusual to have a vice president officiate at the retirement ceremony, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said, adding it was "quite appropriate" given Kelly's wife was a member of Congress.
Kelly remarked that his retirement coincided with the phasing out of NASA's 30-year space shuttle program.
"It think it is imperative that we redouble our efforts to safely operate international space stations as we chart a new course in scientific research and space," he said.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)