Astronaut charged with kindapping fired
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Astronaut Lisa Nowak was fired from NASA on Wednesday, a month after she was charged with trying to kidnap a woman she regarded as her romantic rival for the affections of a space shuttle pilot.
NASA officials said Nowak’s dismissal did not reflect the space agency’s belief in her guilt or innocence. The agency said it lacked an administrative system to handle the allegations because Nowak is a naval officer on assignment to NASA, rather than a NASA civil servant.
If Nowak were a civil servant, NASA would have the choice of placing her on administrative leave, leave without pay or indefinite suspension until the charges are resolved, said NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston. But because she is an officer, those options are not available.
Nowak, a captain in the Navy, instead will return to the military.
Chief astronaut Steve Lindsey notified Nowak late last month that she was to be fired from the astronaut corps.
Her dimissal marked the first time NASA has publicly fired an astronaut, according to space historian Roger Launius of the Smithsonian Institution. She is also the first active astronaut to be charged with a felony, he said.
Nowak, a mother of three, is accused of confronting the woman at the Orlando airport after driving from Houston while wearing an astronaut diaper so that she would not have to stop.
She allegedly pepper-sprayed the woman through a partially lowered car window. In Nowak’s vehicle, police found a BB gun, new steel mallet, a knife and rubber tubing.
The woman was the girlfriend of another astronaut, Bill Oefelein, who previously had a romantic relationship with Nowak.
Nowak, 43, pleaded not guilty to attempted kidnapping and burglary with assault. She was released on bail wearing a monitoring device on her ankle.