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Astronaut charged with attempted kidnapping of romantic rival

March 5th, 2007 11:21 am by Associated Press




ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida prosecutors charged an astronaut Friday with trying to kidnap a romantic rival, but they declined to file an attempted murder charge recommended by police.


Lisa Nowak, 43, was formally charged almost a month after she was arrested at an Orlando airport parking lot.


Police have said the mother of three had raced 900 miles in her car from Houston to Orlando on Feb. 5 to confront a woman she viewed as a rival for a space shuttle pilot's affection. Nowak donned a wig and trench coat, then sprayed a chemical into the woman's car when she wouldn't let Nowak in, police said.


Officers found a BB-gun, a new steel mallet, knife and rubber tubing in Nowak's car, and recommended she be charged with attempted murder.


Nowak pleaded not guilty last month on all counts that police recommended. Her attorney, Donald Lykkebak, said that she denies the charges filed Friday: attempted kidnapping with intent to inflict bodily harm, burglary with an assault using a weapon and battery.


"The state attorney appears to recognize that the initial charges were overreaching," Lykkebak said. "Unfortunately ... the state's current assessment still overstates the conduct."


Nowak believed Colleen Shipman was romantically involved with Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein, a pilot during space shuttle Discovery's trip to the space station last December, according to police. After the confrontation, Shipman drove to a parking lot booth for help.


Kepler Funk, Shipman's attorney, said Shipman was pleased prosecutors talked to her before filing the new charges.


Nowak flew on Discovery last summer and won praise for operating the shuttle's robotic arm. NASA relieved her of all mission duties after her arrest and placed her on a 30-day leave, which is up next Thursday. She is free on bond with an ankle tracking device.


Her arrest was a black eye for NASA, which had been basking in the success of three shuttle missions last year. After the arrest, the space agency began reviewing its psychological screening process for astronauts.


She had been scheduled to be the ground communicator with the space shuttle Atlantis crew that is scheduled to launch on a mission to the international space station no earlier than late April.


"As of this morning, there is no change in her status and I do not have information on what her status will be when the 30-day leave is up," said NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston. AP-CS-03-02-07 1600EST

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