Astronauts are the finest Americans to be found. They’re brave, they’re in top physical condition, they’re preposterously intelligent, and are generally the loveliest human beings you’d ever want to meet. If aliens every visit your house bent on vaporizing our planet and they ask you for some redeeming quality of humanity to convince them to spare us, point them toward an astronaut.
Just not Lisa Nowak, the U.S. Navy Captain and NASA flight engineer who was arrested in Orland last night and charged with attempted kidnapping, attempted burglary of a vehicle, battery, and attempted first-degree murder.
There she is. Not a picture for the Christmas card, I’m assuming. This is one of those stories that starts out weird and then ignites its main engines and boosts itself into the fucking exosphere of weird. Capt. Nowak has been an astronaut for eight years. Before that she graduated from the Navy’s test pilot school. She returned from a 13-day mission to the International Space Station in July 2006. Somewhere in the middle of all that, Lisa went a little screwy. She’s married and has three kids, but yesterday she drove almost 1,000 miles from Texas to Florida in order to kidnap and possibly kill a U.S. Air Force Captain she apparently saw as a rival for the affections of another astronaut. That popular fellow’s name is Bill Oefelein. Capt. Nowak told the police that her relationship with Oefelein was “more than a working relationship, not quite a romantic relationship,” and that she “only wanted to scare” Capt. Colleen Shipman.
So she drove nonstop from Houston to Orlando, lurked in the parking lot of Orlando International Airport wearing a disguise of dark glasses, a trench coat and a wig, and sprayed Capt. Shipman in the face with pepper spray when Capt. Shipman refused to get out of her car. When they arrested Capt. Nowak, the cops found her carrying a steel mallet and a BB gun, in addition to the pepper spray. In her car they found black gloves, a 4-inch folding knife, rubber tubes and trash bags, presumably also for scaring Capt. Shipman.
The cops also found diapers in the car, which Lisa claimed she wore so she wouldn’t have to stop on the way to take a piss. This would be the “fucking exosphere of weird” part. Astronauts wear diapers under their uniforms during takeoff and reentry, to avoid the anxiety felt by poor Alan Shepard, dramatized so memorably in The Right Stuff. Lisa Nowak was so keen on getting to Orlando in time to catch Colleen Shipman and scare her with pepper spray, a knife and trash bags, she took measures allowing her to piss her pants rather than pull in to a rest stop for five minutes. This strikes me as somewhat insane.
You can read a proper news article about this story here. And to that litany of astronaut virtues I wrote in the first paragraph you can add loyalty; Steve Lindsey, the commander on her shuttle mission this past July, said “We are here for Lisa's health and well being and safety and taking care of her like we would any NASA employee in her situation.” Pretty amazing, considering Lisa had just driven halfway across the country in her own excrement to kidnap and murder a fellow pilot. Er, scare, I mean. My apologies.