- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA said yesterday it would review its psychological-screening process in light of an astronaut’s arrest on charges she tried to kill a woman she thought was her rival for a space-shuttle pilot’s affections.

Deputy NASA Administrator Shana Dale said the space agency would evaluate the process “to determine if any modifications are advisable.”

The review will look at how astronauts are screened for psychological problems and whether Capt. Lisa Marie Nowak showed any problems in her dealings with other astronauts. Some recommendations could be issued as early as June.

Capt. Nowak yesterday returned to Texas and headed to Johnson Space Center for a medical assessment.

Before her arrest, Capt. Nowak had shown no signs of instability, Miss Dale told reporters at a press conference in Houston.

Tuesday, Capt. Nowak was released on bail after a Florida courtroom hearing on charges of attempted murder, attempted kidnapping and three other crimes.

Capt. Nowak, 43, who was a co-valedictorian at Rockville’s Charles W. Woodward High School and graduated in 1985 from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, became an astronaut after winning a series of Navy service awards. She flew on Discovery in July, where she and crewmate Stephanie Wilson were known as “the Robochicks” as operators of the shuttle’s robotic arm.

Capt. Nowak, the mother of twin 5-year-old girls and a teenage son, said in a September interview with Ladies Home Journal that her husband, Richard, “works in Mission Control, so he’s part of the whole space business, too. And supportive also.”

But there were signs that not everything was right in her life.

In a NASA interview last year, before her mission aboard Discovery, she spoke about the “sacrifice for our own personal time and our families and the people around us.”

In November, police were called when a neighbor reported hearing the sounds of dishes being thrown inside Capt. Nowak’s Houston-area home. And weeks ago, Capt. Nowak and her husband separated after 19 years.

The final unraveling came this week when police say she tried to kidnap Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, who she thought was her rival for the affections of astronaut William Oefelein. Capt. Shipman, 30, is stationed at Patrick Air Force Base and works as an engineer at Cape Canaveral.

Dr. Jon Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon, said Capt. Nowak was supportive of his family when his wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, died in the 2003 Columbia disaster. He said Capt. Nowak “suffered a lot of mental anguish” in her job.

“There is a lot of marital stress in the astronaut corps in general — a huge amount,” Dr. Clark said. “It’s not unheard of for things to change into relationships that are beyond professional.”

NASA’s female astronauts face extra pressure, he said. “They have to balance two careers — to be a mom and wife and an astronaut. … You don’t come home at night like most of the male astronauts and have everything ready for you.”

Dr. Clark expressed empathy for Capt. Nowak’s husband.

“He was a real low-key, go-with-the flow, unobtrusive person,” Dr. Clark said. “You almost have to be to survive in the realm. … It was hard on our marriage to have my wife gone all the time and eventually have her career surpass mine.”

Capt. Nowak will be replaced as a ground communicator for the next space-shuttle mission, but NASA officials declined to comment when asked if Capt. Nowak’s arrest meant the end of her NASA career.

Greg Dunston, who coached Capt. Nowak — then Lisa Caputo — when she was on the Woodward High track team, told The Washington Times yesterday he was stunned at the news of her arrest.

“When Lisa came into Woodward, one of the first things she said is that she wanted to be an astronaut,” he said.

Mr. Dunston remembered his former student as “always happy and cheerful.” Frank McShalley, a Woodward classmate of Capt. Nowak, described her as a bookworm and said he was “shocked” by the accusations. “This is the last thing I would expect,” he said.

Woodward’s 1981 graduating class held its 25th anniversary reunion in July on the same day that Capt. Nowak’s Discovery shuttle mission was launched. Mr. McShalley said the accusations against Capt. Nowak are “strange” and said he hopes the public will not condemn his former classmate unfairly.

“A lot of people make assumptions like, ‘Oh, she’s nuts.’ That’s not true. Something happened — we don’t know what it is, but she is a nice person.”

• Staff writer Daniel Taylor contributed to this report.

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