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NASA Sets Team to Review Astronaut Mental Healthcare

Astronaut Biography: Lisa Nowak
Astronaut Lisa M. Nowak, mission specialist. Image (Image credit: NASA)

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

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

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

Nowak, a 43-year-oldmother of three, was arrested on Feb. 5 after allegedly driving 900 miles fromHouston to the Orlando airport, where police say she confronted andpepper-sprayed Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, girlfriend of space shuttlepilot William Oefelein, whom she viewed as a romantic rival for the astronaut'saffections.

Immediatelyfollowing the incident, Nowak was charged withattempted first-degree murder, attempted kidnapping and three othercriminal acts. The charges were later downgraded and Florida prosecutors haveentered charges for kidnapping. Nowak's lawyers haveformally entered a not guilty plea and the trial is expected to begin onJuly 30.

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

The otherexternal 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 ofSpace Medicine at JSC, and Wayne Frazier of NASA's Office of Safety and MissionAssurance.

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 andreport the findings to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

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Jeanna Bryner
Jeanna is the managing editor for LiveScience, a sister site to SPACE.com. Before becoming managing editor, Jeanna served as a reporter for LiveScience and SPACE.com for about three years. Previously she was an assistant editor at Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a Master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a science journalism degree from New York University. To find out what her latest project is, you can follow Jeanna on Google+.