NASA, Navy Remove Astronaut From Spaceflight Ranks

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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.)

NASA officials have pulled astronaut and Navycaptain Lisa Nowak from her spaceflyer detail in a mutual agreement withNaval authorities, the U.S. space agency announced Wednesday.

Theannouncement comes as Nowak facesattempted kidnapping charges stemming from a Feb. 5 confrontation with aromantic rival over the affections of spaceshuttle pilot Bill Oefelein.

"NASArequested an end to the detail because the agency lacks the administrativemeans to deal appropriately with the criminal charges facing Nowak," NASAofficials said in a statement.

NASA'scivil servant employees can be placed on administrative leave, leave withoutpay or indefinite suspension, none of which are applicable to the agency's active militarypersonnel and astronauts like Nowak, NASA spokesperson NicoleCloutier-Lemasters, of the agency's Johnson Space Center, told SPACE.com. The decision is not a reflection of NASA's belief in Nowak's innocence or guilt, she stressed.

"Ouroptions were to removeher from flight status, which was done, to put her on leave,which was done, and the only other remaining option was to end the detail," DavidMould, a spokesperson at the agency's Washington D.C. headquarters, added.

Nowak, amother of three, first joined NASA's astronaut ranks in 1996 and made heronly spaceflight last July during the space agency's STS-121shuttle mission to the International SpaceStation [image].The space agency placed Nowak on a 30-day leavefollowing her initial arrest, then later removed her from flight status and replacedher Mission Control assignment as spacecraft communicator for the upcoming STS-117shuttle flight in April.

Policeofficers in Orlando, Florida arrested Nowak on Feb. 5after she allegedly drove 900 miles from Houston, Texas - home to NASA's astronauttraining grounds at the Johnson Space Center - to confront Colleen Shipman, Oefelein'sgirlfriend, at the Orlando airport. Police say Nowak wore an adult diaper akinto those used by astronauts to avoid unnecessary stops, donned a wig toconfront Shipman and sprayed her with pepper spray. Officers also stated thatthey found a steel mallet, knife, rubber tubing and pellet gun in Nowak's car.

Nowak has pleaded not guiltyto charges of attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault.

Accordingto the Associated Press, documents releasedby prosecutors this week included e-mails which confirmed that Oefelein [image],a Navy commander who flew aboard NASA'sDecember shuttle flight, and Nowak had pursued a romantic relationship fortwo to three years, ending in late 2006 before he began to date Shipman.

Because sheis a military officer, and not a civil servant, Nowak's status falls under thejurisdiction of the U.S. Navy and is not subject to any administrative actionsby the space agency, NASA officials said. Nowak will now shift to her next Navyassignment, NASA officials said.

"She hasorders, and she will be assigned to the staff of the chief of Naval AirTraining in Corpus Christie, Texas effective March 21," Commander LydiaRobertson, a U.S. Navy spokesperson, told SPACE.com.

The U.S.Navy and other Armed Forces have a memorandum of understanding with NASA inwhich military personnel can apply to the space agency's astronaut corps ifthey have the appropriate skills and positions are available.

"It is apartnership with the Navy," Robertson said of Naval astronauts, adding thatprocess depends on an applicant's duty detail. "When it fits their designator,the special code that they have that describes what their duties are, then theywill go work for NASA."

Cloutier-Lemasterssaid NASA astronauts from the U.S. military have left the space agency'sAstronaut Corps in the past to return to their respective military branches.

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