NASA Worked to Prevent Astronaut Meltdowns Before Ex-Spaceflyer's Arrest

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – Newly released NASA e-mails indicate thespace agency was looking for ways to prevent astronaut meltdowns just threemonths before one-time shuttle flier Lisa Nowak was arrested in a scandalouslove triangle.

The e-mails from late last year, and released Wednesday,show that space program employees interviewed the former colleagues and the "common-lawwife" of ex-astronaut Charles Brady Jr. after he committed suicide in July2006. It seemed to be an effort to find behavioral clues that could be atip-off in future cases.

Brady, who had flown in space once 10 years earlier, was aNavy captain and flight surgeon who left NASA in 2002.

The e-mails, which included no medical details and wereheavily blacked out, were obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom ofInformation Act.

In one dated Nov. 8, 2006, a NASA or contractor employeewhose name is blacked out wrote about being instructed to look into Brady'sdeath "in order to take from it any lessons learned in the hope that suchan event might be prevented from ever occurring again."

The e-mail writer went on to suggest an hourlong meetingwith officials to discuss the matter. "There is no rush, of course,"the e-mail stated. "This can wait until early JAN if needed as I know youare very busy with STS 116."

"STS-116" was the shuttle mission that flew inDecember 2006. Its pilot was William Oefelein, who was part of the lovetriangle that brought down fellow astronaut Lisa Nowak in February.

Another e-mail, dated Nov. 6, indicated the writer had aninterest in investigating the circumstances surrounding Brady's death "interms of identifying and acting on an astronaut with psychiatric problems."

"Did we miss something ... should we have intervenedand acted at some point?"

The response to that e-mail concluded, "As long as I amaround here I will now have a great deal of more insight into similar issuesand potential psychological concerns."

One of the e-mail authors, who interviewed a woman describedas Brady's "common-law wife" for more than two hours, retrieved acopy of Brady's final evaluation at the Flight Medicine Clinic at Johnson Space Center in Houston in 2005, after he had left NASA. That writer also gatheredinformation on Brady's astronaut selection and psychological testing.

"Following Charles Brady's suicide, NASA employees atthe Johnson Space Center felt it would be beneficial to see if there were any 'lessonslearned' that could be gained by speaking with friends and family of the formerastronaut. The interviews were conducted on a confidential basis," saidDavid Steitz, a NASA spokesman in Washington.

NASA refused to release any notes from NASA doctors,managers or astronauts regarding Brady's suicide, saying those were consideredpersonal and private materials. The space agency also refused to release anyrecords, reports or transcripts of mental health checks for Nowak, again citingprivacy issues.

The woman described as Brady's common-law wife, Susan Oseth,declined comment Wednesday.

Nowak was arrested on Feb. 5 after driving from Houston to Orlando, Florida, and confronting Oefelein's new girlfriend, Air Force Capt.Colleen Shipman, at the airport. She allegedly used pepper spray on Shipman andhad a duffel bag containing a steel mallet, 4-inch (10-centimeter) knife andpellet gun.

NASA quickly established an independent medical panel toassess its handling of astronauts' mental and behavioral issues. The panel'sfindings in July – reports of astronauts being drunk before their launches onat least two occasions, and flight surgeons' concerns being disregarded –continue to spark controversy.

Nowak's attorney has filed notice of intent to use atemporary insanity defense against the charges of attempted kidnapping, batteryand burglary with assault. She suffered from major depression,obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia and "brief psychotic disorder,"according to her attorney.

The military this week entered a protective order barringNowak from contact with Shipman or Oefelein. It also bars her from traveling to Florida, where Shipman lives, for any reason besides court. A similar orderprevents her from traveling to the Washington area where former astronaut BillOefelein now lives. She is not allowed to enter Virginia, Washington, Delaware or Maryland unless ordered by the Navy for official business.

Nowak and Oefelein, both Navy officers, left NASA soon afterthe incident. Nowak, 44, was selected as an astronaut in 1996 and Oefelein, 42,in 1998. Nowak returned to Earth from her single shuttle mission in July 2006less than a week before Brady killed himself.

Brady was54 when he died of self-inflicted wounds in Washington state where he wasliving.

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