NASA, Navy Remove Astronaut From Spaceflight Ranks

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

The announcement comes as Nowak faces attempted kidnapping charges stemming from a Feb. 5 confrontation with a romantic rival over the affections of space shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein.

"NASA requested an end to the detail because the agency lacks the administrative means to deal appropriately with the criminal charges facing Nowak," NASA officials said in a statement.

NASA's civil servant employees can be placed on administrative leave, leave without pay or indefinite suspension, none of which are applicable to the agency's active military personnel and astronauts like Nowak, NASA spokesperson Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters, of the agency's Johnson Space Center, told The decision is not a reflection of NASA's belief in Nowak's innocence or guilt, she stressed.

"Our options were to remove her 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, a mother of three, first joined NASA's astronaut ranks in 1996 and made her only 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 leave following her initial arrest, then later removed her from flight status and replaced her Mission Control assignment as spacecraft communicator for the upcoming STS-117shuttle flight in April.

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

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

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

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

"She has orders, 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

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

"It is a partnership with the Navy," Robertson said of Naval astronauts, adding that process 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 they will go work for NASA."

Cloutier-Lemasters said 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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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.