Suicide Prompted NASA Investigation, E-Mails Show

Just months before astronaut Lisa Nowak allegedly attacked a romantic rival, NASA was investigating whether it could have detected psychiatric problems in a former astronaut who committed suicide.

The investigation is described in a series of e-mails concerning Charles Brady, who killed himself in July 2006, 10 years after he flew on the space shuttle Columbia.

NASA released the e-mails after NPR made a Freedom of Information Act request. Portions of the e-mails are blacked out. They don't reveal who performed the investigation, or what — if anything — the investigation found. But the e-mails show that the investigation included interviews with Brady's "common-law wife" and "several NASA colleagues," as well as a review of a 2005 medical evaluation.

One e-mail says the goal was "to look for lessons learned, in terms of identifying and acting on an astronaut with psychiatric problems ... Did we miss something?... Should we have intervened and acted at some point?"

Another e-mail said the investigation into the death was to "take from it any lessons learned in the hope that such an event might be prevented from ever occurring again."

Three months after these e-mails were written, astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested in Florida. Her lawyer has indicated that she may use a temporary insanity defense.

When contacted by NPR, a NASA public affairs official e-mailed the following statement from David Steitz, a NASA spokesperson at the agency's headquarters:

"Following Charles Brady's suicide, NASA employees at the Johnson Space Center felt it would be beneficial to see if there were any 'lessons learned' that could be gained by speaking with friends and family of the former astronaut. The interviews were conducted on a confidential basis."

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