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Former Astronaut Lisa Nowak's Navy Career Is Over

Pretrial Hearing Set for Former NASA Astronaut
Former NASA astronaut Lisa M. Nowak participates in an exercise in the systems engineering simulator at Johnson Space Center for her STS-121 mission in 2006.
(Image: © NASA)

JACKSONVILLE,Fla. — A government panel lateThursday unanimously decided to end former astronaut and U.S. NavyCapt. LisaNowak's military career.

In2007, Nowak confrontedher romantic rival,Colleen Shipman, in the parking lot of Orlando International Airportafterdriving from Houston. Shipman had begun dating Nowak's love interest,formerspace shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein.

OnThursday, a board of Inquiry made up ofthree Navy admirals voted 3-0 that she should be separatedfrom service;have her service characterized as "other than honorable;" and bedowngraded from her current rank of captain to commander, which affectsher paygrade and pension.

Nowakdid not comment on the decision butremained composed, though it appeared she was tearing up. She wasobviouslydisappointed, but sat straight, with her hands folded on table as shehad formost of the day.

Nowakpleadedguilty in a criminal casein November to felony burglary and misdemeanor battery.She originally had been charged with two felonies - attemptedkidnapping andburglary - along with misdemeanor battery. She could have faced up tolife inprison under the attempted kidnapping charge.

Thursday,Nowak was interviewed by her owncounsel and the government's. The government's questioning focused onitems shehad with her in a bag and in her car when she encountered Shipman.

Earlyon during Thursday's proceedings, thegovernment presented as evidence a black wig and a BB gun found intrash cannear where Nowak was arrested, and a roughly 8-inch knife, green rubbertubingand steel mallet all found in a bag she was carrying. It also presentedpepperspray used in the attack.

Nowak'scounsel objected, saying nothingother than wig and pepper spray actually were used in the attack, butall theitems were admitted.

Duringquestioning by the government counsel,Nowak clarified again that she only had the spray and the wig with herbut hadleft the other items elsewhere. She said she had the other itemsbecause shefeared Shipman might become violent.

Thegovernment also asked her about a diapershe was reportedly wearing during the drive from Houston. Nowaktestified shewas not wearing the diaper, but it had been in the car since anevacuationdrill during Hurricane Rita, more than a year before. She said at thetime sheused one because she could not get into a hotel.

Nowak'scounsel's questioning was morepersonal, asking her about why she decided to become an astronaut. Sheresponded that she had always looked up to other femaleastronauts.

Whenthe government's counsel asked if shethought she was a goodambassadorfor the NASA program,she said that she hoped she would be for female astronauts.

Acolleague, James Hooper, testified todaythat he worked directly with her and she impressed him. "Withoutquestion" she's the kind of officer he wants working for him, he said.Shewas "quite satisfactory and most honorable."

Inclosing, Nowak's counsel called her actionsthose "of a woman who was ill at the time." But in its closing, thegovernment countered that a plea of insanity was taken off the tableand notused, showing she was aware of her actions.

Thepanel, which is meeting at Naval AirStation Jacksonville, will offer a recommendation based on theevidence, whichwill go to the Secretary of the Navy for a final decision. The panelhas alegal adviser in the hearing room.

Thiswas not a court martial, nor is thepanel sentencing Nowak; it is responsible only for deciding on arecommendation.

Thepanel also was questioned today byNowak's counsel during the morning, asking them if they knew therespondent orif they had prior knowledge of the case. They also were asked if theyknewNowak might have worn astronaut diapers during the attack.

Duringthe 2007 incident, Nowak, in a trenchcoat and wig, followed Shipman to the parking lot and tried to get intohercar, then attacked her with pepper spray. Shipman was able to driveaway.

Policearrested Nowak a short time later inthe parking lot near a trash can where she was seen getting rid of abag. InNowak's bag police found the items presented at the hearing today andseverallarge garbage bags.

"Almostthree years later, I'm stillreeling from her vicious attack," Shipman told Circuit Judge Marc Lubetincourt after Nowak's plea, holding back tears. "I know in my heart whenLisa Nowak attacked me, she was going to kill me."

"Ibelieve I escaped a horrible deaththat night," Shipman said.

Shedescribed how she still fears for herlife, suffers nightmares, migraines, high blood pressure and othermedicalproblems and has bought a shotgun and has a concealed weapons permit.She nowlives in Alaska with Oefelein.

Atthe time, Nowak apologized for the painshe brought to Shipman's life. "I hope very much that we can all moveforward from this with privacy and peace," Nowak said.

Shipmanwas not at the hearing.

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