Astronaut facing attempted murder returns to Texas

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HOUSTON – Hiding her face from the cameras, astronaut Lisa Nowak returned to Texas and headed to Johnson Space Center for a medical assessment Wednesday, a day after being charged in Florida with trying to murder the woman she believed was her romantic rival for a space shuttle pilot’s affections.

A police car met Nowak’s plane on the tarmac, and the astronaut, her head covered by a jacket, was escorted down the stairs and into the waiting squad car, then driven away.

“She looked thin, looked tired,” said John Gruttadaurio, a passenger who was aboard Nowak’s flight from Orlando, Fla.

Nowak underwent the medical assessment later Wednesday morning at Johnson Space Center, NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters said. She wouldn’t say if that assessment included a psychological evaluation, but she said Nowak was leaving with her family.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Nowak had been in a Florida courtroom hearing that she was charged with attempted first-degree murder, in addition to attempted kidnapping and three other crimes stemming from what police described as a love triangle involving a fellow astronaut.

She was released on bail but ordered to stay away from the other woman and to wear a monitoring device.

It was a remarkable downfall for a woman whose life seemed to be on a perfect trajectory until a few months ago.

Nowak became an astronaut after winning a series of Navy service awards, and she flew on Discovery in July, where she and crewmate Stephanie Wilson were known as “the Robochicks” because they operated the shuttle’s robotic arm. She also was a mother of three and said in a September interview with Ladies Home Journal that her husband, Richard, “works in Mission Control, so he’s part of the whole space business, too. And supportive also.”

In a NASA interview last year, before her mission aboard Discovery, Nowak spoke about the strain her career placed on her family. She has twin 5-year-old girls and a teenage son.

“It’s a sacrifice for our own personal time and our families and the people around us,” she said. “But I do think it’s worth it because if you don’t explore and take risks and go do all these things, then everything will stay the same.”

In November, a neighbor reported hearing the sounds of dishes being thrown inside Nowak’s Houston-area home, and the police came.

The final unraveling came this week after police arrested her for allegedly trying to kidnap a woman she believed was her rival for the affections of astronaut William Oefelein.

“Perplexed is the word that I’m sticking with,” said astronaut Chris Ferguson, who attended Nowak’s bail hearing in Orlando with Lindsey.

Jon Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon who lost his wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, in the Columbia disaster in 2003, told CNN on Wednesday that Nowak supported his family then and he supports her now.

“She was a mother before she was an astronaut. I mean, she really was into family life, and what’s happened in the last few days has just been totally a shock. She is a really wonderful, good, caring person,” he said. “You have to find forgiveness and love in your heart to get her through this.”