Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ release from a Houston hospital marks a new milestone in her recovery from wounds suffered during the Tucson shooting. The Associated Press reported:

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has moved into her husband’s suburban Houston home, beginning a new phase in her recovery that will allow her to blend daily trips to the hospital with a more routine family life.

Giffords’ departure Wednesday from Houston’s TIRR Memorial Hermann indicates she has made enough progress in her recovery from a devastating gunshot wound to be released from the hospital. But she still has a long, arduous journey ahead of her.

She struggles to speak and walk, and will continue daily, intensive therapy for months, and possibly years. Whether she will ever recover enough to resume her congressional duties is still unknown.

Yet doctors, her astronaut husband Mark Kelly and experts who have been observing Giffords’ recovery emphasize that going home is a key milestone and could help stimulate her progress.

“Anyone who knows Gabby knows that she loves being outside,” Kelly said in a statement released by the hospital. “Living and working in a rehab facility for five months straight has been especially challenging for her.”

Giffords will still go to the hospital each day where she will participate in speech, music, physical and occupational therapy with the same team that has treated her since she arrived in Houston in late January.

Now, however, at the end of each day “she will be with her family,” Kelly said.

The congresswoman will move to Kelly’s home in League City, a suburb near the Johnson Space Center, where she will have 24-hour help from a home care assistant.

The 41-year-old was shot in the left side of the brain, the part that controls speech and communication, on Jan. 8 while meeting with constituents in Tucson. Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the attack, including the lawmaker and members of her staff.

Her release from the hospital was met with excitement.

“When I went home from the hospital after surgery, I was so nervous, but boy it’s wonderful to be home in your own surroundings, to be able to have things on your own schedule,” said Ron Barber, a staffer who also survived the shooting.

“I’m sure it’ll be uplifting and healing for her, too,” he said.

New photos of Giffords were also released on Facebook. Cecilia Kang explained:

Two photos released Sunday show a smiling Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with much shorter and darker hair and few signs of the injuries she suffered when a bullet pierced her skull five months ago.

The images, the clearest yet of the lawmaker who was targeted in a deadly Arizona shooting rampage, were taken by a professional photographer May 17 at her Houston rehabilitation facility.

The photos were released on Giffords’sFacebook page and were not altered or edited, according to her staff.

They “show Gabby has traveled a remarkable distance since Jan. 8,” the day a gunman killed six people, shot Giffords in the head and wounded more than 12 others during a meet-and-greet with constituents in Tucson, said spokesman CJ Karamargin.

Since the attack, Giffords aides and family have closely guarded the congresswoman’s appearance and news of her recovery, which has mainly been released by doctors who have performed surgeries to heal brain swelling and other damage caused by her gunshot wound.

Set to be released as soon as this month from the rehabilitation center, the Arizona Democrat hoped to dampen paparazzi interest in her condition and appearance, Karamargin said.

In April, rumors surfaced that a $200,000 bounty was being offered for photos of Giffords in recovery.

“This was Mark and Gabby’s decision,” Karamargin said. “There is intense interest in the congresswoman’s appearance, and on the threshold of her going to outpatient treatment, we thought this was a good way to satisfy public curiosity.”

Her recovery has been lauded by doctors and her staff. Giffords is expected to be released as early as this month from the Houston medical facility where she has undergone treatment, including a cranioplasty surgery in May.

Giffords was “smiling and laughing,” said photographer P.K. Weis, a former photojournalist asked by the lawmaker to take the photos, who added that “she seemed to enjoy the experience.”

But questions still loom over her cognitive abilities, speech and political future.

The shooting occurred days after Giffords was sworn in for her third term in the House. She has worked in therapy to recover her strength and her ability to speak and walk.

“We know this is going to be more of a marathon than a sprint, but her release into outpatient care will be another sign of progress,” Karamargin said.

He added that Giffords was injured while on the job and has no plans to leave her congressional seat. Her term expires in January 2013.