Space Shuttle Astronaut Arrested on Kidnapping and battery charges

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Lisa Marie Nowak (NASA portrait) William A. Oefelein (NASA portrait)
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Capt. Colleen Shipman (courtesy Penn State Alumni Association)

Lisa Marie Nowak is a NASA space shuttle astronaut,or should I say was a NASA space shuttle astronaut since she will lose her job that children dream of after being arrested for attempted kidnapping and battery:

A NASA astronaut faces her first appearance before a judge this morning after police say she attacked her rival for another astronaut’s attention at Orlando International Airport Monday.

Lisa Marie Nowak drove more than 12 hours from Texas to meet the 1 a.m. flight of a younger woman who had also been seeing the astronaut Nowak pined for, according to Orlando police. She is being held on no bond at Orange County Jail and has a court appearance at 9 a.m.

Nowak — who was a mission specialist on a Space Shuttle Discovery flight last summer — was wearing a trench coat and wig and had a knife, BB pistol, and latex gloves in her car, reports show. They also found diapers, which Nowak said she used so she wouldn’t have to stop on the 1,000-mile drive. Reports show that after U.S. Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman’s flight arrived, Nowak followed her to the airport’s Blue Lot for long-term parking, tried to get into Shipman’s car and then doused her with pepper spray.

Nowak, 43, is charged with attempted kidnapping, battery, attempted vehicle burglary with battery and destruction of evidence. Police considered her such a danger that they requested she be held without bail in the Orange County Jail, reports show.

Here are the specifics on her status:

“Her status as an astronaut with NASA is currently unchanged. I cannot speculate on what might happen beyond that,” said James Hartsfield, a NASA spokesman at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Nowak and Oefelein work.

Nowak’s biography shows she is a 1985 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis with a degree in aerospace engineering, and a former test pilot who has logged more than 1,500 hours of flight in at least 30 types of aircraft.

She joined the space program in 1996. Three members of her astronaut class died in the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster.

A Navy captain, Nowak flew aboard last summer’s 12-day flight to re-supply the International Space Station and test safety features and repair techniques.

“A lot of my training is what you might think of as a Flight Engineer on ascent and entry,” she said in a pre-flight interview on the NASA Web site. “I sit behind and between the pilot and commander and help coordinate things and keep the big picture.”

And she is throwing it all a way over a guy. Ok, not just any guy:

A Navy commander, Oefelein is a former test pilot who attended TOPGUN, the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School. He has flown more 3,000 hours in more than 50 types of aircraft, including over 200 carrier landings, according to NASA.

She’s so intelligent, talented, and skilled yet she allows jealousy to take over and destroy everything in her life.

Update: Nowak hasn’t been fired yet. Her status is unchanged. I have a hard time believing that it won’t change in the near future.

The people at NASA are “baffled. I bet they are. This is not the behavior one expects from someone who can make it through the NASA training program. I can’t imagine NASA allows anyone in space without a psychological exam, which she must have passed.

Update II: Dr. Sanity used to be a psychological consultant for NASA and offers some great insight into the “superstar” culture that NASA promotes regarding their astronauts:

[I]f you treat astronauts like Hollywood superstars; promote them to the public as if they were God’s gift to humanity; cater to their narcissistic fantasies; and indulge them in all sorts of special ways, it is not too hard to predict that they will behave just like any other entitled superstar (or politician) whose ridiculous exploits the public follows with obsessive interest.

Why bother to go to the trouble of choosing “the right stuff” in the first place when the superstar culture of the astronauts only encourages the worst sort of narcissism and sociopathy? Even if an astronaut didn’t have an iota of such psychopathology before they their selection as an astronaut, they are at extremely high risk in the toxic NASA culture of developing it. (see here for a discussion of “acquired narcissism”).

The NASA celebrity culture–like the Washington political culture and the west-coast Hollywood culture–creates these monsters by the uncritical adoration and reverence they give to anyone with a certain job description. Is it shocking therefore that astronauts, politicians, and moviestars behave like the demigods they have been convinced they are? NASA has just had a wake-up call. The powers that be at NASA have always known that astronauts are only human, but over the years they have managed to keep all the bad behavior out of the spotlight and pretend that there is only the good.

Very interesting and sad.

Update III: Speaking of sad, there’s the booking photo…

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