Arrested astronaut flown to NASA for evaluation

NASA to review its psychological screening process in light of Nowak's arrest.

By
February 8, 2007 15:01
3 minute read.
Arrested astronaut flown to NASA for evaluation

nowack 88. (photo credit: )

Astronaut Lisa Nowak returned to Texas and headed to Johnson Space Center for a medical assessment Wednesday, a day after being charged with attempted murder in a Florida court. NASA said Wednesday it would review its psychological screening process in light of Nowak's arrest. Deputy NASA Administrator Shana Dale said the space agency would evaluate the process "to determine if any modifications are needed." According to police, Nowak's obsession with fellow astronaut William Oefelein led her to drive 900 miles from Houston to Orlando, bringing with her a trenchcoat and wig, armed with a BB gun and pepper spray, and wearing a diaper to avoid bathroom breaks on the arduous drive. Nowak, 43, a married mother of three who flew on a space shuttle in July, was accused of hatching an extraordinary plot to kidnap the woman she believed was her rival for for Oefelein's affection, Colleen Shipman. Specifically, police said, Nowak confronted Shipman, who was in her car at the Orlando airport, and sprayed something at her, possibly pepper spray. At first the astronaut was charged with attempted kidnapping and other counts. Then prosecutors upped the charge to attempted murder, basing it on the weapons and other items they said police had found with Nowak or in her car: pepper spray, a BB-gun, a new steel mallet, knife and rubber tubing. Nowak was released from jail on $25,500 bail and ordered to wear a monitoring device. Lisa Nowak became an astronaut after winning a series of Navy service awards, and she flew on Discovery in July, where she and crewmate Stephanie Wilson were known as "the Robochicks" because they operated the shuttle's robotic arm. In a NASA interview last year, before her mission aboard Discovery, she spoke about the strain her career placed on her family. She has twin 5-year-old girls and a teenage son. "It's a sacrifice for our own personal time and our families and the people around us," she said. "But I do think it's worth it because if you don't explore and take risks and go do all these things, then everything will stay the same." In November, a neighbor reported hearing the sounds of dishes being thrown inside Nowak's Houston-area home, and the police came. And weeks ago, Nowak and her husband separated after 19 years. The final unraveling came this week after police arrested her for allegedly trying to kidnap a woman she believed was her rival for the affections of astronaut William Oefelein. "Perplexed is the word that I'm sticking with," said astronaut Chris Ferguson, who attended Nowak's bail hearing in Orlando with Lindsey. Jon Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon who lost his wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, in the Columbia disaster in 2003, told CNN on Wednesday that Nowak supported his family then and he supports her now. "She was a mother before she was an astronaut. I mean, she really was into family life, and what's happened in the last few days has just been totally a shock. She is a really wonderful, good, caring person," he said. "You have to find forgiveness and love in your heart to get her through this." NASA needs to have a stronger psychological and behavioral health support system for shuttle astronauts, Clark said. "They don't have to have any evaluation before or after a mission, and it is only when something catastrophic happens does this ever even come to light," he said. NASA said Wednesday it would review its psychological screening process in light of an astronaut's arrest on charges she tried to murder a woman she believed was her romantic rival for a space shuttle pilot's affections. Deputy NASA Administrator Shana Dale said the space agency would evaluate the process "to determine if any modifications are needed."


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