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Don't Judge NASA by Nowak Case, NASA Chief Says

Astronaut Screening Process Sound, Former NASA Psychiatrist Says
Astronaut Lisa Nowak appears with her attorney Donald Lykkebak, right, before judge Mike Murphy at an Orlando Corrections facility on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2007. Nowak was making a first appearance on attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery and destruction of evidence and battery charges.
(Image: © AP Photo/ Redd Huber, Orlando Sentinel, Pool.)

CAPE CANAVERAL - NASA didn't recognize astronautLisa Nowak's mental condition before she allegedly attacked a romanticrival in an airport parking lot last month, the space agency's chief saidWednesday.

During a Senate hearingabout NASA's budget, NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was asked about thebizarre case. Nowak allegedly donned diapers to avoid bathroom stops and tookoff on a cross-country trip armed with a steel mallet, a four-inch knife and a BBpistol.

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 atthe psychological screening performed on applicants for the astronaut corps.

"The allegationsagainst Capt. Nowak are, of course, very serious, and it's a legal matter. It'sin the legal system. I just will not address those allegations," Griffin said. "But clearly she is in major trouble, and clearly we failed as aninstitution to recognize that she was very troubled."

Griffin noted that NASA is forming twoseparate groups (one with outside experts from "high-performance,high-stress" organizations in the military services) to examine the agency'sscreening procedures.

He said those studies wouldbe made available to Dorgan once they are complete. Griffin, an engineer withthree decades of experience in the U.S. space program, also said NASA'sastronaut corps should not be judged by the actions of one.

Nowak, who flew as amission specialist on NASA's secondpost-Columbia test flight in July, is on a 30-day leave of absence from theagency. The married mother of three is charged with attempted murder, attemptedkidnapping and three other crimes.

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