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Moonstruck Astronaut Returns Home After Murder Attempt Charge

Lisa Nowak has returned home to Houston.
by Staff Writers
Houston (AFP) Feb 07, 2007
A US astronaut charged with attempting to murder a woman she thought was a rival for the affections of a space shuttle pilot returned home Wednesday after her bizarre odyssey landed her in jail. US television images showed Lisa Nowak, 43, covering her face with a jacket as she alighted from an airplane at an airport in Houston, Texas, returning from Florida after a court released her on 25,500-dollar bail.

Nowak was arrested Monday in Florida on attempted kidnapping and battery charges after police said she drove more than 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) from Texas to Florida to attack her presumed love rival, Colleen Shipman, an air force captain.

Police added an attempted first-degree murder charge against the married mother of three Tuesday that could put her in jail for life. A Florida judge released her on bail but ordered her to wear an electronic tracking device on her ankle and stay away from Shipman.

But the image of heroic astronaut unraveled as details of the case emerged along with a police mugshot showing a distressed-looking woman with disheveled hair.

The case has captivated the media in the United States, earning headlines such as "Astronaughty," "Space Oddity" "Lust in Space" and "Astronut."

A police report said Nowak wore diapers to avoid making bathroom breaks while driving from Houston to the Orlando International Airport to confront Shipman whom she believed was a rival for the interest of 41-year-old shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein.

Nowak wore a wig and tan trench coat when she approached Shipman's car and then doused her with pepper spray, police said.

Police arrested Nowak at the airport. In her car, they found a steel mallet, a serrated knife and a loaded pellet gun.

Nowak told police she planned only to "scare" Shipman into talking about her relationship with Oefelein, and had no intention of harming her, according to a police affidavit. Shipman, 30, is an air force captain.

Nowak told police her relationship with Oefelein was "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship," the affidavit said.

A letter found in her possession "indicated how much Mrs. Nowak loved Mr. Oelfelein," it said.

Shipman, in a hand-written statement, said that Nowak was an acquaintance of her "boyfriend" but the two had not met until the astronaut doused her with pepper spray.

"Nowak said that she just wanted to talk to the victim," said Orlando police spokeswoman Barbara Jones. "But everything we found associated with it puts it in a different perspective than 'I just want to talk to you.'"

Prosecutor Amanda Cowan asked the judge to "set aside" the fact that Nowak was an astronaut and a naval officer, and refuse bail. "Murder was a plan."

Defense attorney Donald Lykkebak objected, describing his client as "a desperate woman" who made a "mistake."

Officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which runs the space shuttle program, were shocked by the affair.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic event," said Michael Coats, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Nowak and her husband, a NASA flight controller, both work at the Johnson Space Center. They have a 14-year-old son and five-year-old twin daughters.

She was placed on 30-day leave and was removed from flight status and all mission-related activities, NASA said.

Oefelein served as pilot on the Discovery's December 9-22, 2006 mission to the ISS.

His NASA biography says he has two children, and media reports said he was divorced.

Nowak's family said in a statement that the astronaut separated from her husband weeks ago after 19 years of marriage.

"Lisa is an extremely dedicated and caring mother to her three children," the statement read. "These alleged events are completely out of character and have come as a tremendous shock to our family."

Nowak, a US Navy captain, was a mission specialist on a shuttle Discovery mission in July, operating a robotic arm with astronaut Stephanie Wilson in a job that earned them the nickname "Robo Chicks."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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NASA Sets Out Tough Training To Reach For The Stars
Washington (AFP) Feb 06, 2007
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