NASA Sets Team to Review Astronaut Mental Healthcare
Astronaut Lisa M. Nowak, mission specialist. Image
Credit: NASA

Prompted by the arrest of now ex-astronaut Lisa Nowak, NASA has announced the committee members who will review the mental and other health services available to astronauts.

The committee, announced today, will review NASA's current healthcare systems and medical policies, standards and certifications for astronauts. In April, committee members are scheduled to travel to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston to review documents and interview personnel, including astronauts, involved in the agency's spaceflight program, NASA said.

Chairing the group of external experts will be Air Force Col. Richard E. Bachmann, who studies aerospace medicine and has provided medical support to people who work in extreme environments like that in space.

Nowak, a 43-year-old mother of three, was arrested on Feb. 5 after allegedly driving 900 miles from Houston to the Orlando airport, where police say she confronted and pepper-sprayed Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, girlfriend of space shuttle pilot William Oefelein, whom she viewed as a romantic rival for the astronaut's affections.

Immediately following the incident, Nowak was charged with attempted first-degree murder, attempted kidnapping and three other criminal acts. The charges were later downgraded and Florida prosecutors have entered charges for kidnapping. Nowak's lawyers have formally entered a not guilty plea and the trial is expected to begin on July 30.

Meanwhile, the space agency removed Nowak's flight status and in collaboration with the U.S. Navy, they ousted her from NASA's astronaut corps. The seeming "breakdown" of an astronaut also spurred the space agency to look into how they screen astronauts for both mental and physical health as well as services available to astronauts during their careers.

The other external members of the newly-formed committee include:

  • Air Force Col. Timothy Sowin, a neuropsychiatrist
  • James R. Fraser, an expert in aerospace medicine from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • Retired Navy Capt. Sandra Yerkes, a clinical psychiatrist
  • Mark Bauer, a clinical psychiatrist from the Veteran's Administration
  • Elizabeth Holmes, a clinical psychologist from the U.S. Naval Academy
  • James Bagian, a former NASA astronaut physician and an expert in aerospace medicine and patient safety from the Veteran's Administration
  • Navy Capt. Paul M. DeLaney, an expert in medical legal matters and medical privacy legislation

Ellen Baker, a current NASA astronaut physician, will serve as a consultant to the team. Also, serving as "ex officio" members will be James M. Duncan, the NASA chief of Space Medicine at JSC, and Wayne Frazier of NASA's Office of Safety and Mission Assurance.

In June, the committee is expected to report their findings to Richard S. Williams, NASA's chief health and medical officer, who will look over the review and report the findings to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.