Miami (AFP) Feb 06, 2007
A NASA astronaut who flew on the shuttle Discovery last July was charged with attempted murder Tuesday after driving cross-country to attack a woman she believed a rival for the affections of a fellow astronaut, police said. Lisa Nowak, 43, a US Navy captain and a married mother of three, faces a maximum life prison sentence if convicted of the attempted first degree murder and kidnapping charges lodged against her in Orlando, Florida.
Wearing adult diapers to avoid stopping, Nowak drove over 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) from Houston, Texas to the Orlando airport where she attacked Colleen Shipman -- who herself had just flown in from Houston -- with pepper spray over Shipman's relationship to a space shuttle pilot, Bill Oefelein, according to police reports.
Nowak was arrested early Monday morning at the Orlando airport after she had accosted Shipman while disguised in a wig and a trench coat. Ppolice affadavits said she had with her a bag of weapons including a new steel mallet, a new serrated knife and a loaded pellet gun.
"We believe it was a planned event," Sergeant Barbara Jones of the Orlando Police Department told Fox News.
After being arraigned first on the kidnapping charge and then later on the murder charge, Nowak was released Tuesday on 25,500 dollars bail under the condition she wear an electronic tracking device and avoid Shipman.
"The facts that Mrs. Nowak drove approximately 900 miles, urinated in diapers so that she did not need to stop, stayed at a hotel where she paid cash and used a false name and address to register, stealthily followed the victim, while in disguise, and possessed multiple deadly weapons at the time she confronted the victim ... give this investigator probable cause to believe that Mrs. Nowak intended to murder Ms. Shipman," investigating officer William Becton, said in an affidavit.
The bizarre case brought focus on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which runs the space shuttle program. In a statement, Michael Coats, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Nowak and her husband both work, said, "We are deeply saddened by this tragic event. "The charges against Lisa Nowak are serious ones that must be decided by the judicial system. She is officially on 30-day leave and has been removed from flight status and all mission-related activities."
According to the police report, shortly after 3:00 am Monday Nowak approached Shipman in her car at the Orlando International Airport car park and asked to use her cell phone.
Shipman refused, but then "rolled her window down about two inches, so Mrs. Nowak could hear her ... Mrs. Nowak sprayed some type of chemical spray into the vehicle, at Ms. Shipman's face," the report read.
Shipman told police the spray burned her eyes and that she sped off and called for help, the report said. Police arrived and arrested Nowak after she was identified by Shipman.
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.
Prosecutor Amanda Cowan asked the judge to "set aside" the fact that the defendant was an astronaut and an active duty naval officer and refuse bail. "Murder was a plan."
But defense attorney Donald Lykkebak objected to the murder charge and called his client "a desperate woman" who made a "mistake."
A navy officer since 1987, Nowak trained for two years as an astronaut at the Johnson Space Center from 1996.
She worked in Mission Control as prime communicator with orbiting crews and flew as mission specialist on the shuttle Discovery's July 4-17 mission to the International Space Station.
Oefelein, Nowak's colleague at the Johnson Space Center, served as pilot on the Discovery's December 9-22, 2006 mission to the ISS.
His NASA biography says he has two children but does not list his marital status.
However, legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, told CNN's Larry King that Oefelein is divorced.
Nowak told police that she was "involved in a relationship" with Oefelein, which she categorized as "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.
Nowak's family in Rockville, Maryland said in a statement to CNN that she had separated from her husband several weeks ago after 19 years of marriage.
"Lisa is an extremely dedicated and caring mother to her three children.... These alleged events are completely out of character and have come as a tremendous shock to our family."
Nowak's immediate NASA supervisor, Steve Lindsey, appeared at the first court hearing to offer his support. "We're a close family (at NASA) and we try to take care of our own," said on CNN.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Moonstruck Astronaut Returns Home After Murder Attempt Charge
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.
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