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Astronauts' Image Falls Back To Earth In Love Triangle Case

This 17 July 2006 file photo at left shows Mission Specialist Lisa Nowak of the US space shuttle Discovery during a press conference after Discovery's landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Nowak, pictured at right 05 February 2007 in a police booking photo obtained from the Orange County Jail in Florida, was arrested and denied bail 05 February 2007 after being charged with attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery, destruction of evidence and battery. Police said Nowak drove from her home in Houston, Texas, to the Orlando International Airport in Florida to confront Colleen Shipman, who the astronaut believed was romantically involved with US Navy Commander William Oefelein, who was a pilot during space shuttle Discovery's trip to the space station in December 2006. Nowak followed Shipman to her car and pepper sprayed her. Police found a wig and a trench coat that they said Nowak used as a disguise, along with pepper spray, a BB gun and steel mallet in Nowak's car. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Jean-Louis Santini
Washington (AFP) Feb 07, 2007
The image of the American astronaut fearlessly journeying into space has been dealt a blow this week with the revelation that even NASA heros fall prey to human weaknesses. The case of Lisa Nowak, who flew home Wednesday after being charged with attempted murder and kidnapping after allegedly attacking a woman she believed was a rival for the affections of a space shuttle pilot, has captured headlines around the world.

And the question on most people's lips is how an astronaut supposedly with nerves of steel could be driven to stalk another woman across more than 1,500 kilometers (900 miles), allegedly equipped with a knife, a steel mallet and a gun, and in the process destroy her stellar career?

Former French astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, who was one of Nowak's instructors at the Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas, said she was "serious, hardworking, competent" and "was able to handle very stressful situations."

But her actions show that "astronauts are human beings, and that they can blow a lid and let themselves be overwhelmed by emotions that have nothing to do with their work," Clervoy told AFP.

Nowak flew on her first space shuttle mission last year.

Like other Americans who dream of travelling into space, Nowak, a 43-year-old mother of three, underwent rigorous training and stringent selection procedures to join an exclusive club of 135 astronauts.

Homer Hickman, an expert on space programs, criticized the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) saying astronauts lived life in a "pressure-cooker".

"The problem with ... the astronauts, and there is a problem, it's not them individually. They are very, very bright. It's the organization that they work for," he told CNN television.

"I thought for a long, long time, and I have proselytized within NASA, that the astronaut office in Houston is a dysfunctional organization," said Hickman, a retired NASA engineer who wrote the book "October Sky: A Memoir."

After passing a highly competitive test to become an astronaut, they must compete for the handful of seats available to fly on one of the few shuttle missions each year.

"The way they choose the astronauts is just about without peer review," Hickman said. "They never let the astronauts know how and why they are chosen to be on a flight."

NASA officials said Wednesday they were to review pyschological screening procedures for astronauts in the wake of the case, both for those candidates hoping to make the grade and for astronauts already working within NASA.

Astronauts, in addition to regular health checkups throughout their service, receive "extensive" medical examinations prior to each flight, NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale told a press conference.

And although those examinations do not include a separate component on psychological assessment, NASA health care providers "look for any potential issues or problems," she said.

Astronauts scheduled for long duration flights, such as an extended mission on the International Space Station, must also undergo extensive psychological examinations, she added.

But one pyschologist argued that the very eliteness of their job could entice astronauts to think normal rules did not apply to them.

"People in high-profile positions think that they are above getting caught, that they are above the law," pyschologist Mimi Hull, who specializes in workplace relationships, told US media.

"They have already climbed all these mountains to get where they are. They figure, 'I can overcome any obstacle; I can do this."'

Nowak, who is separated from her husband, told police that she drove from Houston to Florida to talk to her alleged victim, Colleen Shipman, 30, over what she believed was a rival interest in space shuttle pilot William Oefelein, 41.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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NASA To Review Screening Process Amid Love-Triangle Case
Washington (AFP) Feb 07, 2007
NASA officials on Wednesday said they were to launch a review of psychological screening procedures for astronauts in the wake of a bizarre love-triangle case. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was to "initiate a review of existing psychological screening for admittance into the astronaut corps," NASA deputy administrator Shana Dale told a news conference at the space agency's headquarters in Washington.

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