Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 7 News List

NASA to review screening for astronaut corps

JUST HUMAN Many were shocked after a highly successful astronaut was arrested on charges of attempted murder and kidnapping a `love rival'

AFP , HOUSTON, TEXAS

NASA officials said on Wednesday they were to review screening procedures as they reeled from a bizarre love triangle which has left an astronaut facing attempted murder and kidnapping charges.

US astronaut Lisa Nowak, 43, flew back to Houston, Texas, on Wednesday after being released on US$25,500 bail by a Florida court following her alleged attack on a woman she believed was her rival for the attentions of a space shuttle pilot.

"We are very concerned about the tragic situation involving Lisa Nowak," NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale told a press conference, adding the case was "a personal and legal matter."

But she revealed that NASA administrator Mike Griffin had told the director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Michael Coats, to "initiate a review of existing psychological screening for admittance into the astronaut corps."

Staff would also look into the existing process for carrying out psychological assessments during an astronaut's career, Dale added.

But she stressed that: "All astronauts are subjected to extensive medical and psychological testing in order to be admitted to the astronaut corps."

Nowak was arrested on Monday in Florida on attempted kidnapping and battery charges after police said she drove more than 1,500km from Texas to attack her presumed love rival, Colleen Shipman, an air force captain, at Orlando airport.

The case has captured headlines around the globe, with many wondering how an astronaut with a stellar career, who has fearlessly flown into space, could succumb to such a violent fit of jealousy.

French former astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, who was one of Nowak's instructors at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, said she was "serious, hardworking, competent" and "able to handle very stressful situations."

But her actions show that "astronauts are human beings, and that they can blow a lid and let themselves be overwhelmed by emotions that have nothing to do with their work," Clervoy said in a press conference.

NASA officials on Wednesday voiced their support and sympathy for all those involved in the case, including Nowak, whose work they described as "excellent."

"This was a tragic event, impacting many lives along the way. And I think we need to deal with that with empathy and a certain level of compassion," Dale told reporters.

But she added: "In terms of long-term ramifications, I don't necessarily see it at this point. This is a very unique situation that we're facing."

NASA officials confirmed on Wednesday that Nowak was on 30 days leave and had been taken off flight duties.

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