As Valentine’s Day draws near, we remember the not so out of this world story of an astronaut and her scorned love affair. Lisa Marie Nowak, an American aeronautical engineer, a former United States Navy captain, naval flight officer and test pilot, was destined for greatness. Dare we say, it seemed written in the stars.
In 1996, Nowak was selected by NASA to take part as a missions specialist in robotics. She would later take part in a July 2006 voyage in space aboard Space Shuttle Discovery and take the mantle of operating the robotic arms of the shuttle and the International Space Station.
An ace not only in the ranks of NASA, Nowak also thrived in her career in the Navy where she racked an astonishing 1,500 hours in over thirty various aircrafts. She was given the prestige of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and naturally the Naval Achievement Medal.
Nowak was thriving in all aspects of her life. She would add loving wife and mother to her many hats. Marrying a classmate from the Naval Academy named Richard, they would build a family consisting of one son and twin girls. To the ones around her, she excelled and maintained a balance between her personal and professional life.
Stating in an interview, “It’s definitely a challenge to do the flying and take care of even one child and do all the other things you have to do. But I learned you can do it.”
Nowak on the surface had it all. A woman who was a trailblazer in every occupation she held, all the while balancing marriage and motherhood. She seemingly showed the world with ease: Maybe you too can have it all.
Behind the scenes, away from awards, accolades, and public praise, laid a very different truth. Nowak’s picturesque marriage and family were a far cry from what the public and most around her knew. She was madly in love with somebody else. Somebody very close to her at the time.
During 2004, she began an affair with another colleague, William Oefelein. Nowak and Oefelein trained together for their respective excursions into space. For a window of time, Nowak finally saw her chance to be with her lover on a more permanent basis.
Oefelein would end up divorcing his then wife in 2005. Nowak separated from her husband after nineteen years of marriage in 2007.
Unfortunately for Nowak, her newfound love no longer shared the same sentiments. What little flame between she and Oefelein had was now only being held by Nowak.
Oefelein, by mid-January of 2007, was now in an exclusive relationship with Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. He made it clear to Nowak, in what he thought was an amicable end to their affair. Unbeknownst to Oefelein the news ripped Nowak to shreds.
Heartbroken, the shell of what was left of Nowak sought out to learn every painful detail of Oefelein’s new relationship. She took the key Oefelein had given to her during their affair and entered his empty apartment. During this time the distraught Nowak gained access to Oefelein’s personal email.
A single line from Shipman, which read, “Will have to control myself when I see you. First urge will be to rip your clothes off, throw you on the ground and love the hell out of you.” set in motion a chain of events that would become the subject of media fodder and public humiliation for all parties involved.
Blinded by rage, Nowak embarked on a 900-mile journey by car to accost Shipman at the Orlando International Airport. Like a hawk, she kept vigil watching for Shipman, who arrived around 1:00 AM on February 5th 2007.
Donning a wig and a trench coat, Nowak stuck out like a sore thumb to the puzzled Shipman. Nowak gave chase as Shipman rushed to her car. Attempting to play the rouse of a troubled person whose ride had not shown up, Nowak attempted to enter Shipman’s car. When Shipman attempted to call for a ride for the suspicious Nowak, she was assaulted with mase through a slightly open window.
Shipman luckily escaped the bizarre encounter with Nowak shortly after.
Later, investigators in the case uncovered hundreds of dollars in cash, printed out email correspondences between Oefelein and Shipman, mase, a knife, rubber tubing, gloves, a BB gun, a mallet, a CD containing images of bondage scenes, and lately the infamous diapers. Nowak’s attorney would clear up the latter stating the diapers were from an evacuation during the 2005 hurricanes.
What would play out in courts and unfortunately the media was a soap opera reality of epic proportions. When all jokes were set aside, we began to see the parties in pain. Nowak especially, after losing a close friend in a shuttle accident and having her own marriage end was experiencing a mental breakdown.
Although Nowak’s case was sealed in 2011, the incident would be synonymous with her name. NASA responded to this unusual circumstances of events by implementing annual psychological screenings for their astronauts.
Oefelein was let go by NASA in June of 2007, but not even Nowak or the public embarrassment, keep him and Shipman apart. The two married in Alaska in 2010 and now share a son together.
It wasn’t a happy conclusion for all. But it’s one hell of a story that we’ll always remember.
Watch an interview with Coleen Shipman and her encounter with Lisa Nowak here.