Astronaut's Family, NASA Release Statements After Arrest
Astronaut Lisa M. Nowak, mission specialist. Image
Credit: NASA

NASA and the family of astronaut Lisa Nowak released separate statements late Tuesday on the spaceflyer's Monday arrest by Florida police.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic event," said Michael Coats, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston where astronauts are trained, in the space agency's statement. "The charges against Lisa Nowak are serious ones that must be decided by the judicial system."

Police officers in Orlando, Florida arrested Nowak early Monday, charging her first with attempted kidnapping and other counts, then later adding the attempted murder count based on weapons and items authorities said they found with the astronaut or in her car.

Police charged Nowak with acting out a bizarre plan to kidnap Colleen Shipman, a woman the astronaut reportedly believed to be involved with another NASA spaceflyer - shuttle pilot William Oefelein.

Nowak allegedly drove the 900 miles (about 1,500 kilometers) from her Houston home to the Orlando airport to confront Shipman, according to an arrest affidavit. She was released from jail Tuesday on $25,500 bail, the Associated Press reported.

Coats stated that Nowak, a 43-year-old U.S. Navy captain and trained space shuttle mission specialist, has been removed from flight status and all mission-related activities.

"She is officially on 30-day leave and has been removed from flight status and all mission-related activities," Coats said in the statement. "We will continue to monitor developments in the case."

NASA spokesperson Kylie Clem, of the Johnson Space Center, told SPACE.com Tuesday that Nowak was preparing to serve as a spacecraft communicator, or CAPCOM, during the space agency's next shuttle mission -- STS-117 aboard the Atlantis orbiter -- slated to launch on March 15.

A veteran U.S. Navy captain and native of Washington, D.C., Nowak is a mother to a teenage son and two young daughters and first joined NASA's astronaut ranks in April 1996.

After more than a decade of training and preparation, Nowak served as a shuttle and space station robotic arm handler during NASA's STS-121 mission -- the agency's second test flight following the 2003 Columbia accident. The astronaut launched with her five fellow crewmates on July 4, 2006 on a 13-day flight to the International Space Station (ISS), during which she and fellow robotics specialist Stephanie Wilson were dubbed "Robochicks" by flight controllers [image].

"Lisa is a very intelligent, accomplished individual," Nowak's family said in a statement released late Tuesday. "As a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and in her professional career in the Navy and NASA's Space Shuttle program, she has served over 20 years with an unblemished record."

Nowak trained alongside Oefelein in the past, but the two astronauts have not flown together. Oefelein, a Navy commander who joined NASA in 1998, made his first spaceflight in December during the STS-116 mission to the ISS aboard the Discovery orbiter.

In their statement, Nowak's family members thanked supporters for their thoughts and prayers, and added that she is "an extremely caring and dedicated mother to her three children."

"We are naturally saddened and extremely concerned about the serious allegations being made against Lisa," the family's statement read. "We love her very much, and right now, our primary focus is on her health and well-being."

According to the statement, Nowak and her husband Richard have been married for 19 years, but separated a few weeks ago.

"Considering both her personal and professional life, these alleged events are completely out of character and have come as a tremendous shock to our family," the family's statement read. "We hope that the public will keep an open mind about what the facts will eventually show and that the legal system will be allowed to run its course."