Astronaut Lisa Nowak was fired from NASA on Wednesday, a month after she was charged with trying to kidnap a woman she regarded as her rival...
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astronaut Lisa Nowak was fired from NASA on Wednesday, a month after she was charged with trying to kidnap a woman she regarded as her rival for the affections of a space shuttle pilot.
It was the first time NASA has fired an astronaut, according to space historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian Institution. Nowak is also the first active astronaut to be charged with a felony, he said.
Nowak’s dismissal did not reflect the space agency’s belief in her guilt or innocence, NASA officials said. The agency said it lacked an administrative system to handle the allegations because Nowak is a naval officer on assignment to NASA, rather than a NASA civil servant.
If Nowak were a civil servant, NASA would have the choice of placing her on administrative leave, leave without pay or indefinite suspension until the charges are resolved, said NASA spokesman James Hartsfield. But because she is an officer, those options are not available.
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Nowak, a Navy captain, instead will return to the military.
She will be assigned to the staff at the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, Texas, starting in two weeks, Navy Cmdr. Lydia Robertson said. Robertson said she didn’t know what specific job Nowak would be doing.
The space shuttle pilot who was the object of Nowak’s affections, Navy Cmdr. Bill Oefelein, remains on active duty while working for NASA. Robertson said she could not speculate whether his status is under review.
Nowak, 43, didn’t respond to a call to her Houston home seeking comment, and a spokeswoman for her attorney said she didn’t have any immediate comment.
Word of NASA’s action came two days after court records in Florida showed that Nowak and Oefelein had been involved in a romantic relationship for some time, and that Oefelein had recently broken it off after meeting Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman.
In a statement to detectives, Oefelein said the breakup occurred in January, and that Nowak “seemed a little disappointed” but accepted that he was dating another woman. However, on Feb. 5, Nowak left Houston and drove 900 miles to Orlando to confront Shipman, wearing an astronaut diaper so she wouldn’t have to stop on the drive, authorities said.
The released documents also show that Nowak, a mother of three, was going to divorce her husband so she could be with Oefelein.
The documents included steamy e-mails sent by Shipman to Oefelein, who was on a mission to the international space station at the time. Detectives said Nowak was carrying copies of the e-mails when she was arrested.
“Will have to control myself when I see you,” Shipman wrote Oefelein a day before his shuttle mission ended last December. “First urge will be to rip your clothes off, throw you on the ground and love the hell out of you.”
Nowak is accused of confronting Shipman at the Orlando airport.
She allegedly pepper-sprayed Shipman through a partially lowered car window. Police found a BB gun, steel mallet, knife and rubber tubing in Nowak’s possession.
Nowak pleaded not guilty to attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault. She was released on bail wearing a monitoring device on her ankle.
She received a commission from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985 and joined the astronaut corps in 1996.