Anatomy of an Out-of-This-World Affair

Shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein admitted to detectives he had an affair with fellow astronaut Lisa Nowak that lasted for years, but in a lengthy statement given to investigators with the Orlando Police Department and just released this week by the prosecutors in the case, he appeared surprised that she would target his new lover for bodily harm.

What emerges from the transcript of his police interview is that the timing of Nowak's alleged attack was hardly a coincidence. After they began their affair and Oefelein left his wife, it would be three more years before Nowak would do the same. And just weeks after she ended her 19-year-long marriage, Oefelein dumped her for his new girlfriend.

Several weeks later, Nowak was arrested in Orlando, where she allegedly tried to assault Oefelein's new squeeze.

When detectives questioned him about his relationship with Nowak, Oefelein admitted he knew she was married, but said she told him her marriage was rocky.

"We talked as friends about issues, and our lives, that maybe are personal. When you have a close friend you start talking about issues in your life," he told detectives during an interview at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Investigator: "What was your marital status at the time?"

Oefelein: "At that time I was married."

Investigator: "OK, at some point you ended up getting divorced. Is that correct?"

Oefelein: "Yes."

Oefelein went on to tell investigators that he and Nowak began their affair two or three years ago. "We trained together, went through survival training on the same team, we also were on the same bicycle team, you just get paired up."

Soon, he said, they considered themselves an exclusive couple, despite the fact that they were both married at the time to others. However, when he met Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman last fall during a shuttle training session at the Kennedy Space Center, he says he realized "the relationship with Lisa was not how it had been before." His feelings for Nowak had changed. He was now in love with Shipman.

"I told [Nowak] that I had met Colleen, and I had fallen in love, and I was wanting to pursue an exclusive relationship with Colleen," he said.

When asked how Nowak responded to that, Oefelein said, "She seemed a little disappointed, but she seemed to be accepting of that. She tried to call me a lot. I wasn't always receptive to the phone calls."

Nowak kept a key to Oefelein's apartment after they broke up. The weekend before she drove to Florida to confront the woman who was her rival, she used that key to let herself into Oefelein's apartment, log on to his computer, and download the hot and heavy e-mail exchanges between Oefelein and Shipman.

Nowak, who had just separated from her husband, read the e-mails, which showed just how far the relationship between her former lover and Shipman had progressed. "Will have to control myself when I see you, first the urge will be to rip your clothes off, throw you on the ground, and love the hell out of you," read one note Shipman sent to Oefelein.

The steamy e-mail exchanges continued even as Oefelein was piloting the Discovery as the shuttle orbited Earth. He e-mailed her photos of himself on the shuttle wearing a charm she had given him -- challenging her to find the charm in the photo. He asked her if she had a current passport so she could go with him on a junket through Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo.

He kept photos of himself with Shipman on his home computer, and that is how he believes Nowak discovered the identity of his new girlfriend.

Shipman told investigators she had a page on myspace.com and had posted several videos of photos of herself and Oefelein on it; she has since shut it down.

Oefelein took leave and flew out to Florida the morning he found out his ex-girlfriend had attacked his current girlfriend.

Shipman told investigators Oefelein did not believe Nowak was dangerous. "He told me he had no idea that she was, that she would do something like this. He said that he felt horrible, that he should have seen some kind of sign or something."

When investigators asked Oefelein why he thought Nowak would attack Shipman, he replied, "You know, we are all full of theories. I would never have predicted this. Her behavior indicated to me that she was stable and accepting of what I'd told her about Colleen. She had actually wished me a nice weekend, knowing Colleen was going to spend it with me."

What will happen to Nowak and Oefelein? Nowak is on a 30-day medical leave,which expires Thursday. NASA's options are to continue her leave, reinstate her or fire her; she could also choose to resign. She is accused of attempted kidnapping, and burglary with assault, which could mean a lengthy prison sentence.

In addition, Oefelein and Nowak both are officers in the Navy, and they have both admitted to adultery, which is an offense both could be tried for in military court.

Lisa Nowak was a mission specialist on STS 121 last summer. It was her first and most likely only flight. Bill Oefelein was the pilot on the last shuttle mission, which was his first flight, and probably his last as well.

Sixteen shuttle flights have been commissioned to finish and supply the International Space Station, and one mission is planned to fix the Hubble Telescope. There are just over 100 astronauts, and half have not flown yet. The chances of two astronauts flying again, who have broken the rules and embarrassed NASA so publicly, would appear to be slim.

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