NASA Releases Documents, E-mails in Nowak Case

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.

Behind the scenes, the NASA press office was scrambling to figure out what to do. Astronaut Steve Lindsey, who commanded Nowak's shuttle flight, flew to Orlando to see what he could do, along with shuttle pilot Chris Ferguson. Lindsey escorted Nowak back to Houston after she was released on bond.

"Steve, you are handling an incredibly difficult task very extremely well," Michael Coats wrote in an e-mail, also released by NASA "Let us know whatever you need. Thank you for a job well done."

It was important to many in the astronaut corps who wanted to make sure that one of their own was not abandoned, while they struggled to understand what happened to Lisa Nowak. Ten months later, despite the release of hundreds of pages of evidence, videotapes, photos and cell phone records, there are still more questions than answers.

During the legal proceedings since Nowak's arrest, Oefelein has made it a point to appear by Shipman's side. Nowak has been bolstered by a devoted circle of family and friends.

In the two weeks between chatty e-mails and the incident in the Orlando parking lot, Nowak separated from her husband, and discovered that she would not be assigned to a shuttle mission. The job went to someone else when colleagues said Nowak was "not a team player," according to documents released by the courts earlier this year.

Nowak has spoken publicly only once, outside the courtroom following a hearing.

"The past six months have been very difficult for me, my family, and others close to me," Nowak said. "I know that it must have been very hard for Colleen Shipman, and I would like her to know how very sorry I am about having frightened her in any way and the subsequent public harassment that has besieged all of us."

Nowak won a huge legal victory earlier this year week when Judge Marc Lubet granted motions to suppress her 72-page statement to police the night she was arrested and to toss out the evidence seized from her car.

The evidence seized from Nowak's BMW in a motel parking lot included maps to alleged victim Colleen Shipman's home, e-mails between Shipman and Oefelein, large garbage bags, latex gloves and some used diapers.

Nowak's defense team repeatedly denies she ever wore diapers to avoid stopping during her drive from Houston, but the detective who took her statement said Nowak told him she had done so.

Despite the suppression of her statement, authorities still have evidence against Nowak. At the time, she carried a duffel bag with a steel mallet, a buck knife, a BB gun resembling a 9mm handgun, gloves and six feet of rubber tubing.