NASA fires astronaut charged in attack on rival

Nowak is the first dismissed by agency

March 08, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

Houston -- Astronaut Lisa Nowak, charged with attempted kidnapping after confronting a rival for another astronaut's affections at an Orlando airport last month, was fired by NASA yesterday. She is the first astronaut ever dismissed by the space agency.

NASA's decision does not reflect the agency's belief in her guilt or innocence, said spokesman James Hartsfield. "The primary reason for the termination is we don't have the administrative means to deal with the criminal charges against her," he said.

While most NASA employees are civil servants, Nowak is a Navy captain on assignment to the space agency. In a situation involving a civil servant, NASA could put the employee on leave or indefinite suspension until criminal charges were resolved.

Nowak is to report next month to the Naval Air Training Command in Pensacola, Fla., said Navy spokesman Lt. Justin Cole. Her new duties have not been determined.

Nowak, a mother of three, is accused of using pepper spray on the girlfriend of shuttle pilot Cmdr. William A. Oefelein after driving from Houston wearing a diaper so she wouldn't have to stop. Police found a BB gun, steel mallet, knife and rubber tubing in Nowak's car.

Nowak, 43, pleaded not guilty to attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault, and was released on bail. She returned to her Houston home wearing a monitoring device on her ankle.

On Monday, Florida's attorney general's office released a statement to police from Oefelein and e-mail from his girlfriend, Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, while he was orbiting Earth on a December shuttle mission.

Oefelein's statement offered confirmation that he and Nowak had been romantically involved. Nowak told police after her arrest that the two had "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship."

Oefelein told police said that after a two- or three-year relationship, he and Nowak split around January so that he could date Shipman. He thought it was an amicable parting.

One e-mail Shipman sent to Oefelein in the space shuttle said: "Will have to control myself when I see you. First urge will be to rip your clothes off, throw you on the ground and love the hell out of you."

"You write such good notes!! You are the best!! I love you," Oefelein wrote in response.

Police seized the notes from Nowak's car after her arrest. They had been downloaded from a computer in Oefelein's Houston apartment, to which Nowak had a key.

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