NASA To Review Astronaut Screening Process

NASA astronaut and US Navy Captain Lisa Nowak Orlando Police Department booking photo,left, Space Shuttle mission STS-116 pilot Bill Oefelein, center, and Colleen Shipman from her Penn State yearbook photo AP Photo/Penn State Univ.

NASA said Wednesday it would review its psychological screening process after an astronaut's arrest on charges she tried to murder a woman she believed was her romantic rival for a space shuttle pilot's affections.

The space agency will review the selection process for astronauts and the amount of screening they get after they are chosen, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi. Currently, there is no annual psychological review.

Hiding her face from the media, Lisa Nowak returned to Texas and the Johnson Space Center for a medical assessment Wednesday, a day after being charged in Florida with attempted first-degree murder, attempted kidnapping and three other crimes.

Nowak had shown no signs of instability before her arrest, said Deputy NASA Administrator Shana Dale. "As you know, it's a very tight-knit community that cared about each other."

Police said Nowak, accustomed to wearing astronaut diapers during the space shuttle's launch and return, wore them on a 900-mile drive from Houston to Florida so she would not have to make bathroom stops as she raced to confront Colleen Shipman at the Orlando International Airport. A police affidavit said Nowak, in a wig and trench coat, had "stealthily followed the victim while in disguise and possessed multiple deadly weapons," including a knife and steel mallet.

She was released on bail but ordered to stay away from Shipman and wear a monitoring device.

Nowak underwent a medical assessment Wednesday at the Johnson Space Center, said NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters, who would not say whether that included a psychological evaluation. "She's not staying here. She's leaving with her family," Cloutier-Lemasters said.

NASA officials declined to comment when asked if Nowak's arrest meant the end of her NASA career. Nowak will be replaced as a ground communicator for the next space shuttle mission, where she would have talked to the astronauts from Houston during their flight.

Dale said Nowak's arrest would not have a long-term impact on the space program.

"This is a tragic event that impacted many lives, but this is a unique situation that we're facing," Dale said.

It was a remarkable downfall for a woman whose life seemed to be on a perfect trajectory until a few months ago. Just weeks ago, Nowak and her husband separated after 19 years.

Nowak became an astronaut after winning a series of Navy service awards. She had flown on the shuttle Discovery, and was a mother of three children. She said in a September interview with Ladies Home Journal magazine that her husband, Richard, "works in Mission Control, so he's part of the whole space business, too. And supportive also."

"I interviewed her before her flight last summer and I remember walking away from that thinking she's like every other first-time flier: extremely, excited about the flight," CBS News space consultant Bill Harwood said on CBS' The Early Show.

"When I heard that name and heard what was going on, I was as shocked as everyone else," Harwood said of Nowak.

But there were signs that not everything was right in her life.

In a NASA interview last year, before her mission aboard Discovery, she spoke about the strain her career placed on her family. She has twin 5-year-old girls and a teenage son.

"It's a sacrifice for our own personal time and our families and the people around us," she said. "But I do think it's worth it, because if you don't explore and take risks and go do all these things, then everything will stay the same."

  • Alfonso Serrano

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