Astronaut Formally Charged in Bizarre Love Triangle Case

ByABC News
March 2, 2007, 3:38 PM

March 2, 2007 — -- The kidnapping charges formally filed against astronaut Lisa Nowak are still an embarrassment for her bosses at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Prosecutors decided not to file attempted murder charges against Nowak.

Nowak, 43, is accused of attempting to kidnap Colleen Shipman, the woman she perceived as a rival for the affections of fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein. Orlando police say Nowak drove more than 900 miles from her home in Houston to stake out Shipman as she returned from a trip at the airport in Orlando. She dressed in a trench coat, wore a wig and sprayed a chemical in Shipman's face. The details of her drive to Orlando were so bizarre that the incident quickly became the focus of the late night shows.

Sources inside NASA tell ABC News there is concern about the impact the bad publicity and embarrassment of a trial, which would be televised, would have on the space agency. There are suggestions a plea bargain would be beneficial for all parties, to keep the steamy details of the love triangle from being aired live on TV. Some officials have commented, off the record, that they would like to see Nowak simply resign.

She is currently on 30 days medical leave, which expires next week.

NASA spokesman James Hartsfield would not speculate on her future as an astronaut. "We will release a statement if and when her status changes, and will not comment on any matter in the jurisdiction of the courts," he said.

Nowak was scheduled to work in mission control as a capcom on STS 117, the shuttle mission that will fly later this spring, once the external tank is fixed. Astronaut Terry Virts will take her place in mission control.

She flew on the second shuttle flight after the Columbia accident, and was praised for her ability to handle the complicated robotics on that mission.

Nowak and her husband separated last month, a couple of weeks before the alleged kidnapping attempt. She is the mother of a teenage son and twin girls. The charges are baffling to her friends, who are still trying to figure out how the petite, shy woman they know could possibly be involved in such a messy love triangle.