Astronaut Facing Kidnap Charge, Released on Bail


Feb. 6, 2007 — -- The NASA astronaut who allegedly tried to kidnap a woman involved in a bizarre love triangle with another astronaut has been charged also with attempted first-degree murder.

The additional charge was announced after Lisa Nowak appeared in court Tuesday morning to face attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery, and destruction of evidence and battery charges.

Originally, a judge agreed to release Nowak, who flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery last July, after she posted a $15,500 bond and agreed to wear a tracking device and stay away from the alleged victim.

An Orange County jail spokesman, however, said that Orlando police were adding the more serious charge -- that the 43-year-old astronaut tried to kill the woman involved in the incident. At an afternoon hearing, Nowak was charged with attempted first-degree murder and was later released after posting a $25,500 bond.

During the morning proceedings, chief astronaut Steve Lindsey, who flew with Nowak, testified that Nowak would return to Houston. He escorted her through the throng

"Our primary concern is her health and well-being, and that she get through this," Lindsey said after the hearing. "Her status [with the astronaut corps] has not changed."

Nowak was also joined by another astronaut, Chris Ferguson.

The astronaut's arrest has baffled many who know her and work with her at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

A Navy commander and the married mother of a teenage son and twin 5-year-old girls, Nowak has logged more than 1,500 flight hours in 30 different aircraft.

The accuser is a woman who Nowak believed was romantically involved with Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, a fellow astronaut, according to police. Investigators are piecing together an assortment of evidence, including love letters and e-mails, that suggests a love triangle between the three.

The details in the affidavit portray a woman who was obsessed over a real or imagined relationship with Oefelein, who flew on the last shuttle mission in December.

Police say that Nowak left Houston and drove 900 miles to the Orlando Airport, reportedly stopping only for gas and wearing adult diapers so she wouldn't have to stop to urinate.

At the airport, she waited for the return flight of Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, who she believed was her rival for Oefelein's affections.

Nowak wore a trench coat and a wig to disguise herself, and carried pepper spray and a BB gun. She trailed Shipman to her car and attempted to enter the car, but Shipman drove to a parking lot booth and called the police.

From the police affidavit:

"Lisa Marie Nowak (Arrestee) drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida in order to meet Colleen Shipman (victim) at the Orlando International Airport. Once Shipman arrived at the airport, Nowak followed Shipman to the blue lot where Shipman had parked her car. As Shipman gets into her car, Lisa Marie Nowak approaches Shipman's car, slaps the window, and tries to open the door. When Shipman will not open the door, Nowak begins to cry. Shipman cracks the window of her car at which time Nowak sprays pepper spray into the vehicle. Shipman is able to drive away from Nowak and ask for the Police. Nowak and Shipman were both in a relationship with another Astronaut. Nowak felt that she needed to meet with Shipman and discuss the details of their relationship with the male Astronaut."

After Shipman called the police, officers saw Nowak stuff a garbage bag into a trash can at the airport.

Inside the bag, they found a wig, trench coat, a BB pistol, a new steel mallet, a new folding knife with a four-inch blade, three to four feet of rubber tubing, several plastic garbage bags, and about $600 in cash.

Nowak and Oefelein did not fly on the same space shuttle mission, but they trained together for 11 days in 2002 at a Canadian army cold-weather survival camp.

Friends and colleagues are baffled over the allegations. One astronaut told ABC News that the astronaut corps at the Johnson Space Center was "totally, totally stunned. Everyone is just stunned."

Nowak is scheduled to be a capcom -- capsule communicator -- on the next space shuttle mission, STS 117, which is targeted for a March 15 launch date.

Will she be suspended?

No one at the Johnson Space Center is saying anything beyond confirming that Nowak is currently on active status. No one remembers a scandal of this proportion in recent memory in the astronaut corps.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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