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Astronaut Faces Attempted-Murder Charges

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Astronaut Faces Attempted-Murder Charges


Astronaut Faces Attempted-Murder Charges

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

NASA is calling it a bizarre and sad story, an unprecedented story in the history of the elite Astronaut Corps. Today, an astronaut is being accused of attempted kidnapping and murder. Lisa Nowak is 43 years old, a married mother of three. She's been an astronaut for over a decade. Police say she planned to kidnap and kill someone she considered to be a romantic rival for the affection of another astronaut.

NPR's Nell Boyce reports.

NELL BOYCE: Lisa Nowak blasted off into space on the Fourth of July last summer. It was her first flight. As she orbited Earth, she describes the view.

Ms. LISA NOWAK (Astronaut, NASA): It's incredible looking out the window and seeing the Earth and the moon at the same time. It's just incredible.

BOYCE: But now Nowak is involved in something that her colleagues find even more incredible. Police in Orlando, Florida, say early Monday morning, they were called to the Blue Satellite Parking Lot at the Orlando airport. A woman named Colleen Shipman told police that she'd become frightened when a woman wearing a trench coat followed her from the airport baggage claim to her car.

Sergeant Barbara Jones is a spokesperson for the Orlando Police Department. She says Shipman rushed to her car and locked the door, but the woman slapped at the window and asked for a ride. Shipman said no.

Sergeant BARBARA JONES (Orlando Police Department): But when she put the window down a small amount, obviously there was some type of mace disseminated inside the car.

BOYCE: With her eyes burning, Shipman drove to the attendant's booth. Soon afterward, a police officer found Nowak at the lot.

Sergeant JONES: The officer did observe her throw something in the trashcan and walk away.

BOYCE: Inside the trashcan was a wig and a BB gun. Jones says police later found that Nowak had other items, including a brand-new steel mallet and three to four feet of rubbing tubing.

Sergeant JONES: I mean, there's a disguise. There was a buck knife that was found. There were latex gloves. It was pretty elaborate, and she traveled quite some distance to make contact with Ms. Shipman.

BOYCE: Nearly 1,000 miles from Houston to Orlando. Police say that Nowak wore diapers so she wouldn't have to make pit stops. The reason for this trip? Nowak told police that she believed that Shipman was having a relationship with another astronaut, William Oefelein. A letter found in Nowak's car indicated that she loved him. Barbara Jones of the Orlando police says Nowak apparently saw Shipman as a rival.

Sergeant JONES: She indicated that she simply wanted to talk to her, really just wanted to scare her, but obviously, we look at it based on the totality of the evidence.

BOYCE: Nowak's lawyer told reporters that he thinks police only filed the murder charge in an effort to keep his client released on bail. Meanwhile, the NASA community is stunned. Spokesperson Kylie Clem works at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the astronauts train.

Ms. KYLIE CLEM (Spokesperson, NASA): Lisa Nowak performed very well on her last shuttle mission, and we're supportive of our NASA family and our employees, and we just don't understand the situation any more than anyone else at this point.

BOYCE: The head of the Astronaut Corps, Steven Lindsey, testified in support of Nowak at a bail hearing this morning. NASA officials say Nowak's status as an astronaut remains unchanged.

Nell Boyce, NPR News.

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