NASA astronaut charged with attempted kidnapping in love triangle with shuttle pilot

An American astronaut charged with attempting to kidnap a romantic rival in a love triangle with another astronaut was allowed to go free on bail Tuesday on the condition that she not contact the alleged victim.

U.S. Navy Capt. Lisa Nowak, 43, a robotics specialist who flew last July on a shuttle mission to the international space station, drove 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) from her home in Houston to Orlando International Airport, donned a disguise and was armed with a BB gun and pepper spray when she confronted Colleen Shipman, who she believed was romantically involved with fellow astronaut, Navy Cmdr. William Oefelein.

During the drive, she wore diapers as astronauts do during launch and re-entry so she would not have to stop to go to the bathroom.

In court Tuesday, the judge said Nowak could be released on $15,500 (Ђ11,992) bond under the condition that she does not contact her alleged victim. She said "yes" when the judge asked her if she understood not to contact the woman.

Nowak, a married mother of three, stood in a jail uniform, with her head down as the hearing was under way. Along with the attempted kidnapping charge, she also faces charges of attempted vehicle burglary with battery, destruction of evidence and battery.

Nowak rode aboard Discovery in July. Oefelein, 41, piloted the space shuttle Discovery in December. 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.

When she found out 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. Dressed in a wig and a trench coat, she 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 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.

Two other astronauts attended the hearing. Steve Lindsey, commander of Nowak's Discovery flight last July, testified that Nowak would obey the conditions of her release, reports AP.

Chris Ferguson, a pilot on the mission, also attended the hearing. Asked afterward about Nowak's behavior, Ferguson said "perplexed is the word I'm sticking with."

Oefelein and Shipman, who the Houston Chronicle said worked at Patrick Air Force Base near the Kennedy Space Center, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston said that, as of Monday, Nowak's status with the astronaut corps remained unchanged. "What will happen beyond that, I will not speculate," he said.

Hartsfield said he could not recall the last time an astronaut was arrested and said there were no rules against fraternizing among astronauts.

Police said Nowak told them that she only wanted to scare Shipman into talking to her about her relationship with Oefelein and did not want to harm her physically.

"If you were just going to talk to someone, I don't know that you would need a wig, a trench coat, an air cartridge BB gun and pepper spray," said Orlando police Sgt. Barbara Jones. "It's just really a very sad case."

According to NASA's official biography, Nowak is a Naval Academy graduate who has a master's degree in aeronautical engineering. She has a teenage son and younger twin girls.

Oefelein has two children and began his aviation career as a teenager flying floatplanes in Alaska, according to a NASA biography. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University and later earned a master's degree in aviation systems at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He has been an astronaut since 1998.

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