NASA to Look At Screening Of Astronauts

By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

NASA will immediately begin two formal reviews of its procedures for assessing the emotional and psychological well-being of astronauts in response to Monday's arrest of a member of the elite corps, Navy Capt. Lisa M. Nowak, on charges of attempted murder and kidnapping in connection with an apparent love triangle.

The first review will examine the extent and quality of the space agency's psychological testing and monitoring of the astronauts and will be done with the assistance of outside experts, NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said yesterday.

The second review will be conducted by managers of the Johnson Space Center in Houston to determine how and why supervisors and colleagues there failed to detect how disturbed Nowak had become.

NASA officials said that as late as Friday, Nowak, 43, had been at work in Houston preparing to serve as lead Mission Control specialist in charge of communications between ground control and the crew of the next space shuttle mission.

By early Monday, Nowak had allegedly made a nonstop dash by car to Orlando to confront -- and pepper-spray -- Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, whom Nowak perceived as a rival for the affections of astronaut William "Billy" Oefelein.

Nowak approached Shipman in disguise in an airport parking lot around 3 a.m. and tried to get into Shipman's car while carrying a steel mallet, a buck knife and a BB gun that resembled a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, according to an affidavit filed by local police. They said the BB gun was loaded with pellets and was set to fire.

Nowak was released on bail late Tuesday and returned yesterday to Houston on a commercial airline with chief astronaut Steven W. Lindsey, who had flown to Florida on Monday. NASA officials said that after a medical assessment yesterday morning at Johnson Space Center, she was with her parents and friends. Her son and twin daughters were with her estranged husband, Richard, who works for a NASA contractor.

Oefelein, 41, piloted the most recent shuttle mission to the international space station. He has two children and is divorced.

Reflecting the intensely personal nature of the situation, Dale said that Johnson officials learned of Nowak's arrest early Monday from Oefelein. The NASA official said the astronaut had gotten a call from Shipman after the alleged attack and quickly telephoned the director of Johnson Space Center, where the astronauts are stationed.

Nowak and Oefelein trained together as astronauts but were never on the same mission. Shipman, 30, works at Patrick Air Force Base near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Nowak's behavior led NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin to request a formal review of psychological testing and oversight procedures at Johnson Space Center. That assessment will be conducted by NASA officials, Dale said, and will look into whether there were "any areas of concern -- any leading indicators we might have picked up on, based on Lisa Nowak's dealings with other astronauts or NASA employees, between the time she was detailed to us from the Navy and the present."

The second review, ordered by Griffin yesterday, will be undertaken by NASA's chief medical officer and will include outside experts who will assess the quality and appropriateness of the agency's psychological testing and counseling. Dale said it will be completed by June.

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