GENEVA — Former US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords toured the European particle physics laboratory Wednesday, cheerfully facing reporters but saying little during her first trip abroad since being shot in the head last year.
Giffords was accompanying her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, on a visit to the European Center for Nuclear Research, two days after she rode a cable car up into the French Alps. The lab, known as CERN, had assembled a $2 billion cosmic ray detector that Kelly and his team carried to the international space station in May 2011.
That mission came months after Giffords, a lawmaker from Arizona, was shot by a gunman in a Jan. 8, 2011, rampage that killed six and wounded 13 outside a Tucson supermarket. Since then, Giffords has undergone intensive therapy and made dramatic progress, but she also decided to leave her seat in Congress to focus on her recovery.
During a press conference Wednesday, Kelly joined CERN officials and four other astronauts in recalling the delicate task of installing the 7-ton Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the space station so that it can scan the universe for signs of dark matter and antimatter. Kelly commanded the mission, which was the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the principal investigator for the CERN-based project, said the detector is functioning ‘‘perfectly’’ and an international team of 600 scientists has now collected data from 18 billion cosmic rays.
Giffords, a Democrat, served on the House Science and Technology Committee and took on NASA affairs while heading the space subcommittee. Ting singled her out for praise because of her support for the US space program.
‘‘Thank you,’’ she quickly replied, beaming.