By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Astronaut Lisa M. Nowak has been dismissed by NASA and will return to active duty in the Navy, officials said yesterday.
Nowak has been charged with attempted kidnapping and other felonies in connection with a late-night encounter in Florida with a woman she saw as a rival for the affections of astronaut William A. Oefelein, a Navy commander.
Navy spokeswoman Lydia Robertson said Nowak will begin her new assignment on March 21, working with the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, Tex. Navy officials have said they will decide whether Nowak should face military charges after her criminal case runs its course.
The public dismissal of Nowak appears to be the first in the history of the astronaut corps, said space historian Roger D. Launius of the Smithsonian Institution. He said Nowak is also the first active-duty astronaut charged with a felony.
Nowak, 43, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault, stemming from her Feb. 5 confrontation at Orlando International Airport with Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman. Nowak was released on bail and is wearing a monitoring device on her ankle.
Nowak has said that she stopped Shipman because she wanted to talk to her about Oefelein, but police said Nowak pepper-sprayed the woman and tried to enter her car. Police initially recommended a charge of attempted murder against Nowak, but prosecutors decided against it.
NASA selected Nowak as a member of the astronaut class of 1996. She flew on one mission, in 2006, and was slated to be the lead Mission Control communications officer for the next shuttle trip.
In a statement, NASA said that it had "requested an end to the detail because the agency lacks the administrative means to deal appropriately with the criminal charges pending against Nowak. Because Nowak is a naval officer on assignment to NASA, rather than a NASA civil servant, she is not subject to administrative action by NASA."
The statement said that Nowak's dismissal was done by mutual agreement of the agency and the Navy.
Word of NASA's action came two days after court records in Florida showed that Nowak and Oefelein had been romantically involved for some time, and that Oefelein had recently broken it off after meeting Shipman.
In a statement to detectives, Oefelein said that the breakup occurred in January, and that Nowak "seemed a little disappointed" but accepted that he was dating another woman.
The 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-mail messages sent by Shipman to Oefelein, who was on a shuttle 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 the 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."