HOUSTON(AP) -- Anyone who's read Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff'' or seen the movie basedon it knows about the mental and emotional stresses astronauts face as theytrain for space travel. But those trying to explain the apparent breakdown ofLisa Nowak say the pressure can be even higher for female astronauts, who notonly face the same work stresses as their male counterparts but often face highexpectations at home.
"They mademore sacrifices than the 'Right Stuff' guys,'' said Dr. Jon Clark, a former NASAflight surgeon who lost his wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, in the 2003 Columbia disaster. "They have to balance two careers -- to be a mom and wife and anastronaut. ... You don't come home at night, like most of the male astronauts,and have everything ready for you.''
Clark said Nowak, charged with attemptedmurder and attempted kidnapping in what police depict as a love triangleinvolving a fellow astronaut, provided invaluable support to his family afterhis wife's death, even when it cost her time with her own husband and threechildren.
Nowak'sbackground -- high school valedictorian, Naval Academy graduate, test pilot --seemed to equip her for the challenge. Yet as she and some of her acquaintancesacknowledged, the stresses on her and her family were extraordinarily intense.
OnWednesday, transformed from space hero to criminal suspect, Nowak returned to Houston for a medical assessment.
She was meton the tarmac by police and escorted into a waiting squad car after her releaseon bail. Her head was covered by a jacket. She faced a medical exam at Johnson Space Center.
NASA saidit would revamp its psychological screening process in light of Nowak's arrest.The review will look at how astronauts are screened for psychological problemsand whether Nowak's dealings with co-workers signaled complications.
Nowak has ateenage son and 5-year-old twin girls with her husband, Richard, who works fora NASA contractor. The couple separated a few weeks ago after 19 years ofmarriage.
"She wasthe epitome of managing a very hectic career, making sacrifices to accommodateher family,'' Clark said in a telephone interview. "All those stresses canconspire to be overwhelming. ... Clearly she suffered a lot of mental anguish.
"There is alot of marital stress in the astronaut corps in general -- a huge amount,'' Clark said. "It's not unheard of for things to change into relationships that are beyondprofessional.''
Clark expressed empathy with RichardNowak.
"He was areal low-key, go-with-the-flow, unobtrusive person,'' Clark said. "You almosthave to be to survive in the realm. ... It was hard on our marriage to have mywife gone all the time, and eventually have her career surpass mine.''
Lisa Nowakgrew up in Rockville, Md., where she was co-valedictorian and a member of thetrack team in high school. She graduated from the Naval Academy in 1985. Theclass officers of her year said Wednesday in a statement released by BryanCaisse, the class secretary, that Nowak was "a great classmate and friend.''
"She neverhesitated to lend a hand or assist someone in need. She has been an incrediblerole model as a Naval Officer, astronaut and mother, and has shared her successwith many others,'' the statement said.
Nowakreceived a master's degree in aeronautical engineering, flew as a test pilot inthe mid-1990s while caring for an infant son, and became a full-fledgedastronaut in 1998.
"It'sdefinitely a challenge to do the flying and take care of even one child and doall the other things you have to do. But I learned that you can do it,'' shesaid in a recent interview with Ladies Home Journal.
Last July,in the climax of her career, she flew on the space shuttle Discovery, helpingoperate its robotic arm and winning praise for her performance.
However,there were signs of turmoil in her life.
InNovember, a neighbor reported hearing the sounds of dishes being thrown insideNowak's Houston home. And she had begun to form a relationship with WilliamOefelein, a fellow astronaut and father of two whose own marriage ended indivorce in 2005.
Police saidNowak told them the relationship was "more than a working relationship but lessthan a romantic relationship.''
CharleneDavis, the mother of Oefelein's ex-wife, Michaella, said Wednesday that Nowak --although friends with Oefelein for years -- had nothing to do with his marriagebreakup.
"I thinkthere were a lot of bad choices being made, and Lisa just made a horribleone,'' Davis said in a telephone interview. "And I just feel sorry for her.What the hell was she thinking?''
The finalunraveling came this week when police arrested Nowak for allegedly trying tokidnap Colleen Shipman, an Air Force captain from Florida. Police said Nowakbelieved Shipman was her rival for Oefelein's affections.
Policecharged Nowak with attempting to murder Shipman based on weapons and otheritems found with Nowak or in her car: pepper spray, a BB-gun, a new steelmallet, knife and rubber tubing. Nowak's lawyer, Donald Lykkebak, has said sheonly wanted to talk to Shipman.
Those whoknow Nowak away from the high-pressure atmosphere of NASA were stunned.
"I was verysurprised... She always seemed very normal to me,'' said Candis Silva, wholives three houses down from the Nowaks. "She was a good role model for ourdaughters.''
ThomasNagy, a Palo Alto, Calif., psychologist who has studied the stresses facingdual-career couples, hesitated to offer any specific diagnosis of Nowak, butsaid such seemingly desperate acts could result from a chronic personalitydisorder or from a period of high stress that clouds one's judgment.
"Whenpeople are in that role of trying to do everything to the Nth degree, theydon't get enough sleep, they don't do enough activities that are fun, theydon't get enough exercise,'' he said.
"If weignore those because we're trying to do it all, we pay a price -- more anxiety,more depression.''