Newly released e-mails between former NASA astronauts Lisa Nowak and Bill Oefelein indicate Nowak may have been unaware that she had competition for Oefelein's affections until a few days before she confronted the other women in a Florida airport parking lot.
Following the encounter Nowak was arrested and later dismissed by NASA.
The documents, which NASA posted online quietly overnight, were released 10 months after ABC News requested them under the Freedom of Information Act. NASA released e-mails between Nowak and Oefelein since 2004 and e-mails written by Oefelein to his girlfriend, Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman. Messages that NASA deemed to be of a personal nature were excluded.
Nowak was arrested in February after allegedly confronting Shipman in Florida. Police documents say Nowak stalked Shipman at the Orlando airport and tried to get into her car, then attacked her with pepper spray. Shipman was able to drive away, and report the attack to police, who tracked down Nowak nearby and arrested her. Police didn't know until much later that she was an astronaut.
Nowak is charged with attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault which can be punishable by life in prison.
As late as Jan. 25, just a couple of weeks before Nowak's arrest on Feb. 8 in Florida, Nowak and Oefelein were still exchanging friendly e-mails and chatting about training, working out and going on bike rides together. There is no hint that she is aware of his relationship with Shipman, a woman he had met three months before while training for his shuttle mission.
In the e-mails, Oefelein asked Nowak's advice about what shirts to order for his space shuttle flight. He asked what did she think about the food he ordered to take into space during his shuttle mission? There is a lengthy discussion about whole wheat tortillas and granola bars, plus personal appearances at baseball games.
The e-mails between Nowak and Oefelein are neither romantic nor suggestive. They do portray a friendly, but on the surface, professional relationship.
When discussing a happy-hour party to celebrate a shuttle mission, Oefelein e-mailed Nowak on Wednesday Jan. 3, 2007 to ask, "Are you going to this?"
"Only if u r [sic]," she replies.
A week later, Jan. 31, Oefelein e-mailed Shipman about a junket to Alaska, his home state. The tone was more romantic.
"They want your size for the arctic gear for the snow machine outing. I think I can figure that out ... sexy and athletic," Oefelein wrote.
ABC News also requested information from NASA on the space agency's policy for granting leave to its employees. And the documents they gave ABC News apparently show the agency did not have a policy about what to do if an astronaut was arrested.
NASA's leave policy covers sick leave, family responsibilities, military duty and jury duty. The policy does not contain a word about what to do if an astronaut is arrested and charged with a felony.
A month after Nowak's arrest, she was terminated as an astronaut by NASA. Months later, her former boyfriend, Oefelein was also let go. Nowak is now working on flight software for the Navy, and keeping a very low profile. She is still scheduled to go to trial in April, 2008.
The documents also detail some of NASA's response to the February attack. The day Nowak was arrested; Johnson Space Center Director Michael Coats briefed reporters on NASA's budget, but said nothing about the arrest of one of their astronauts, earlier in the day.