Astronaut Arrested In Attempted Kidnap

Lisa Nowak, Orange County Sheriff's Department booking photo, left and Space Shuttle STS-121 Mission Specialist photo.
AP Photo
Last summer, astronaut Lisa Nowak was soaring 220 miles above Earth, floating in the rarefied air of the international space station.

The 43-year-old robotics specialist was in quite a different place Monday night: A dingy jail among suspected drug dealers and prostitutes.

A Florida judge Tuesday released Nowak on a $15,500 bond and ordered her to wear a GPS tracking device. The judge also told Nowak she was prohibited from contacting the alleged victim.

Nowak, a married mother of three who police believe was in a love triangle with a fellow astronaut, was charged with trying to abduct a woman she saw as her romantic rival, authorities said.

"It looks like it was a fairly elaborate plan and we believe that she was probably going to try to kidnap the victim and, you know, possibly do serious bodily harm," said Sgt. Barbara Jones, a spokeswoman for the Orlando Police Department, reports Jessica D'Onofrio of CBS affiliate WKMG-TV.

Nowak faces charges including attempted kidnapping, attempted vehicle burglary with battery, destruction of evidence and battery.

Police said she drove 900 miles, donned a disguise and was armed with a BB gun and pepper spray when she confronted a woman she believed was a competitor for the affections of Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein.

Nowak and Oefelein, 41, were both first-time fliers during separate shuttle missions last year. They trained together but never flew together.

Nowak told police that her relationship with Oefelein, who is unmarried, was "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship," according to an arrest affidavit. Police officers recovered a love letter to Oefelein in her car.

Nowak believed a woman, Colleen Shipman, was romantically involved with Oefelein, authorities said. When Nowak found out that Shipman was flying to Orlando from Houston, Nowak decided to confront her early Monday, according to the arrest affidavit.

Nowak raced from Houston to Orlando wearing diapers in the car so she wouldn't have to stop to go to the bathroom, authorities said. Astronauts wear diapers during launch and re-entry.

Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, Nowak waited for Shipman's plane to land and then boarded the same airport shuttle bus Shipman took to get to her car, police said. Shipman told police she noticed someone following her, hurried inside the car and locked the doors, according to the arrest affidavit.

Nowak rapped on the window, tried to open the car door and asked for a ride. Shipman refused but rolled down the car window a few inches when Nowak started crying. Nowak then sprayed a chemical into Shipman's car, the affidavit said. Shipman drove to the parking lot booth, and the police were called.

An officer reported following Nowak and watching her throw away a bag containing the wig and BB gun. Police also found a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubing, $600 and garbage bags inside a bag Nowak was carrying when she was arrested, authorities said.