CAPE CANAVERAL - NASA didn't recognize astronaut Lisa Nowak's mental condition before she allegedly attacked a romantic rival in an airport parking lot last month, the space agency's chief said Wednesday.
During a Senate hearing about NASA's budget, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was asked about the bizarre case. Nowak allegedly donned diapers to avoid bathroom stops and took off on a cross-country trip armed with a steel mallet, a four-inch knife and a BB pistol.
Specifically, U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. and a member of the Senate Subcommitee on Space, Aeronautics and Related Sciences, wanted to know whether NASA was looking at the psychological screening performed on applicants for the astronaut corps.
"The allegations against Capt. Nowak are, of course, very serious, and it's a legal matter. It's in the legal system. I just will not address those allegations," Griffin said. "But clearly she is in major trouble, and clearly we failed as an institution to recognize that she was very troubled."
Griffin noted that NASA is forming two separate groups (one with outside experts from "high-performance, high-stress" organizations in the military services) to examine the agency's screening procedures.
He said those studies would be made available to Dorgan once they are complete. Griffin, an engineer with three decades of experience in the U.S. space program, also said NASA's astronaut corps should not be judged by the actions of one.
Nowak, who flew as a mission specialist on NASA's second post-Columbia test flight in July, is on a 30-day leave of absence from the agency. The married mother of three is charged with attempted murder, attempted kidnapping and three other crimes.
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