Kate's Notes

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lisa Marie Nowak

Lisa Marie Nowak

Lisa Marie Nowak (born May 10, 1963 in Washington, D.C.), is an American astronaut, whose first mission into space was on the NASA Space Shuttle mission STS-121 in July 2006, but who is best known for her unexpected, and shocking attempted kidnapping, and possibly murder of U.S. Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. On February 5, 2007, she was arrested in Orlando, Florida. Police allege she was planning to kidnap and murder a romantic rival. Nowak believed that Shipman was involved with fellow astronaut, William Oefelein, who she described as having a "more than a working relationship, but less than a romantic relationship.” Not only was her intent alarming, given her prestigious position with NASA, but the lengths to which she went to carry out the attempted act were unnerving, and even horrifying to everyone who knew her, as well as most of the American public.

Early Life and Career

Nowak is the daughter of Alfredo and Jane Caputo of Rockville, Md. Like many children of the time, she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up after watching the Apollo moon landings when she was five years old. She fostered her interest by intently following the space shuttle program, particularly the introduction of women astronauts, in her adolescence.

Novak attended C.W. Woodward High School in Rockville, Maryland, and subsequently received BS degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, received her commission from the U.S. Navy in 1985 and became a naval flight officer in 1987 followed by Electronic Warfare School at Corry Station, Florida, and initial A-7 training at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. She was assigned to Electronic Warfare Aggressor Squadron 34 at Point Mugu, California, where she flew EA-7L and ERA-3B aircraft, supporting the fleet in small and large-scale exercises with jamming and missile profiles. While assigned to the squadron, she qualified as Mission Commander and EW Lead. She received an MS degree in aeronautical engineering and a degree in astronautical engineering in 1992 from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

In 1992, Nowak completed two years of graduate studies at Monterey, and began working at the Systems Engineering Test Directorate at Patuxent River, Maryland. In 1993, she was selected for both Aerospace Engineering Duty and U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. After graduation in June 1994, she stayed at Patuxent River working as an aircraft systems project officer at the Air Combat Environment Test and Evaluation Facility and at Strike Aircraft Test Squadron, flying the F/A-18 and EA-6B. Nowak was then assigned to the Naval Air Systems Command, working on acquisition of new systems for naval aircraft, when she was selected for the astronaut program.

After her postgraduate studies, Nowak entered Aerospace Engineering Duty and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, where she logged over 1,500 hours of flight in over 30 different aircraft during her career in the Navy, eventually obtaining the rank of Captain.

Nowak was selected to be an astronaut in 1996 and entered the astronaut corps at Johnson Space Center in August of that year. She qualified as a mission specialist in robotics and went into space July 4, 2006 on the STS-121 mission which included a trip to the International Space Station. Not only did she served as mission flight engineer, operated the shuttle's robotic arm during several spacewalks and logged almost 13 days in space, but she was the first Italian American woman to go into space; she carried a National Organization of Italian American Women gold pin during her flight and is a Roman Catholic.

Space Flight Experience

STS-121 (July 4-17, 2006), was a return-to-flight test mission and assembly flight to the International Space Station. During the 13-day flight the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery tested new equipment and procedures that increase the safety of space shuttles, repaired a rail car on the International Space Station and produced never-before-seen, high-resolution images of the Shuttle during and after its July 4th launch. Nowak was responsible for operating the remote arm during scheduled EVAs. The crew also performed maintenance on the space station and delivered and transferred more than 28,000 pounds of supplies and equipment, and a new Expedition 13 crew member to the station. The mission was accomplished in 306 hours, 37 minutes and 54 seconds.

Personal Life

Nowak married Richard T. Nowak, a former classmate at both the Naval Academy and Navy flight school, in 1988. Richard Nowak is employed by a NASA contractor at Johnson Space Center. The Nowaks have three children, a son born in 1992 and twin daughters born in 2001. While the Nowaks are still married, a statement from the family indicated that they separated in January 2007.

Her reported hobbies, characterized by Time magazine as a "seemingly focus-group-tested list," include reading, running, piano, gardening, skeet shooting, gourmet cooking, rubber stamp collecting and crossword puzzles.

Attempted Kidnapping and Attempted Murder

On February 6, 2007, police in Orlando, Fla., filed attempted murder charges against Nowak. Authorities said she attacked U.S. Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman at Orlando International Airport on February 5, 2007, after driving more than 900 miles from Houston to meet her flight.

Television stations juxtaposed Nowak’s official NASA photo, showing her smiling broadly in an orange flight suit, with a mug shot showing her looking wan and disheveled, with a furrowed brow and her hair splayed in all directions.

She was originally arrested on attempted kidnapping and other charges, and a judge initially set a $15,500 bond; however the police filed new charges against her, saying they had evidence that Captain Nowak intended “to do serious bodily injury or death” to Shipman because she considered her to be a rival in her romance with a fellow NASA astronaut, Cmdr. Bill Oefelein.

The judge increased the bond for Nowak by an additional $10,000, which would still allow her to go free pending her trial, with the stipulation that she wear an electronic tracking device and ordered her to stay away from Shipman.


According to the police, Captain Nowak drove more than 950 miles from Houston to Orlando to meet with Shipman, who was flying from Houston to her home in the Orlando area at the same time — because she wanted to confront Shipman after discovering that she was involved with Commander Oefelein.

Nowak was wearing a trench coat and wig when she was arrested, and she told the police she had worn diapers on the journey so that she would not have to stop to use the restroom so she could arrive in time to meet Shipman’s flight at the airport.

Shipman told the police that she noticed a woman following her shortly after arriving on a flight from Houston at about 1 a.m. on February 5, 2007, when she was waiting for a bus to take her from the terminal to her parking lot to pick up her car. The two women boarded the same bus, she told the police, and got off at the same stop.

At the parking lot, Shipman noticed the other woman was following her; she subsequently told the police, and quickly entered her car after hearing “running footsteps” behind her.

Nowak, approached the car window, with her hood pulled over her head, and tried to open the door. She asked Shipman for help, and apparently said that her “boyfriend was supposed to pick [her] up and he [was] not [there.]” Shipman said no, but offered to send help, which Nowak declined; instead asking to use her cellphone. Shipman told her the battery was dead.

When Shipman would not open the door, Nowak began to cry and said that she couldn’t hear Shipman with the window closed. When Shipman cracked open the window, Nowak sprayed pepper spray into the vehicle, the authorities said. Shipman then drove away and summoned the authorities.

Nowak later told police that spraying the pepper spray “was stupid,” according to the affidavit, and said she only wanted to scare Shipman into talking to her.

However, after the police found a knife, BB pistol, and latex gloves in her car, the situation began to look more serious.

Journey to Confrontation

After Shipman summoned authorities, the police arrived to see Nowak putting some items into a trash can, which included a wig and a plastic bag containing a carbon dioxide-powered BB pistol.

Inside a bag Nowak was carrying, the officer found a tan trench coat, a new steel mallet, a new folding knife with a 4-inch blade, 3 to 4 feet of rubber tubing, large plastic garbage bags and about $600 in cash.

Nowak permitted a search of her car, and police found a half-dozen latex gloves, MapQuest directions from Houston to Orlando International Airport, e-mails from Shipman to Oefelein, diapers that Nowak said she used to eliminate bathroom stops along the highway, a letter indicating how much she loved Oefelein and directions to Shipman's home address in Florida.

The police said Captain Nowak described her relationship with Commander Oefelein as “more than a working relationship, but less than a romantic relationship.” Commander Oefelein served on a mission by space shuttle Discovery in December.

Captain Nowak and Commander Oefelein are listed on the NASA Web site among the 97 active duty astronauts.

NASA Reaction

This event has been widely covered by US media and attracted worldwide interest. "The mood at NASA is “we're stunned," said space agency spokesman James Hartsfield. He added that in spite of the extensive psychological testing astronauts go through, "we don't track the personal lives of the individuals that work for the agency."

Stephanie Schierholz, a NASA spokeswoman, said that Nowak’s status at NASA was placed under review following her arrest.

NASA officials have decided that it will review psychological screening assessments of astronauts after the recent arrest of Nowak, who is now charged with attempted first degree murder.

The space agency will determine if there are "lessons to be learned" from the incident involving Nowak and determine if modifications need to be made.

Dale told a news conference that NASA will review criteria for screening astronauts for the program and look at how often they are evaluated throughout their career. They also will review procedures to determine if any changes need to be made.

Astronaut Nowak was taken to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Wednesday for a medical evaluation, which would also include a psychological evaluation, NASA said.


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