Astronaut Charged With Attempted Murder

By: CBS News/AP
By: CBS News/AP

A NASA astronaut has been charged with an additional charge of first-degree attempted murder Tuesday after being accused trying to kidnap a romantic rival in a love triangle with another astronaut, according to a jail official.

A Florida judge had earlier ordered Lisa Marie Nowak released on bail on the condition that she not contact the alleged victim.

The judge told Lisa Marie Nowak she could be released on $15,500 bond, then asked if she understood the conditions. She responded "yes."

Nowak, a married mother of three, stood in a jail uniform, usually facing down during the hearing. She planned to return home to Houston, and the judge ordered her to wear a tracking device.

The 43-year-old robotics specialist faces charges including attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery, destruction of evidence and battery.

"It looks like it was a fairly elaborate plan and we believe that she was probably going to try to kidnap the victim and, you know, possibly do serious bodily harm," said Sgt. Barbara Jones, a spokeswoman for the Orlando Police Department, reports Jessica D'Onofrio of CBS affiliate WKMG-TV.

Police said she drove 900 miles, donned a disguise and was armed with a BB gun and pepper spray when she confronted a woman she believed was a competitor for the affections of Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, an unmarried fellow astronaut.

Nowak rode aboard Discovery in July. Oefelein, 41, piloted the space shuttle Discovery in December. They trained together but never flew together.

Nowak told police that her relationship with Oefelein was "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship," according to an arrest affidavit. Police found a love letter to Oefelein in her car.

According to authorities, Nowak believed another woman, Colleen Shipman, was romantically involved with Oefelein. When Nowak found out Shipman was flying to Orlando from Houston, Nowak decided to confront her early Monday, according to the arrest affidavit.

Nowak raced from Houston to Orlando wearing diapers in the car so she wouldn't have to stop to go to the bathroom, authorities said. Astronauts wear diapers during launch and re-entry.

Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, she waited for Shipman's plane to land and then boarded the same airport shuttle bus Shipman took to get to her car, police said. Shipman told police she noticed someone following her, hurried inside the car and locked the doors, according to the arrest affidavit.

Nowak rapped on the window, tried to open the car door and asked for a ride. Shipman refused but rolled down the car window a few inches when Nowak started crying. Nowak then sprayed a chemical into Shipman's car, the affidavit said. Shipman drove to the parking lot booth and police were called.

An officer reported following Nowak and watching her throw away a bag containing the wig and BB gun. Police also found a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubing, $600 and garbage bags inside a bag Nowak was carrying when she was arrested, authorities said.

Two other astronauts attended the hearing. Steve Lindsey, commander of Nowak's Discovery flight last July, testified that Nowak would obey the conditions of her release.

Chris Ferguson, a pilot on the mission, also attended the hearing. Asked afterward about Nowak's behavior, Ferguson said "perplexed is the word I'm sticking with."

Oefelein and Shipman, who the Houston Chronicle said worked at Patrick Air Force Base near the Kennedy Space Center, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston said that, as of Monday, Nowak's status with the astronaut corps remained unchanged. "What will happen beyond that, I will not speculate," he said.

Hartsfield said he couldn't recall the last time an astronaut was arrested and said there were no rules against fraternizing among astronauts.

Police said Nowak told them that she only wanted to scare Shipman into talking to her about her relationship with Oefelein and didn't want to harm her physically.

"If you were just going to talk to someone, I don't know that you would need a wig, a trench coat, an air cartridge BB gun and pepper spray," said Jones. "It's just really a very sad case."

According to NASA's official biography, Nowak is a Naval Academy graduate who has a master's degree in aeronautical engineering. She has a teenage son and younger twin girls.

Oefelein has two children and began his aviation career as a teenager flying floatplanes in Alaska, according to a NASA biography. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University and later earned a master's degree in aviation systems at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He has been an astronaut since 1998.


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