Money. Sex. Love Betrayed. Extramarital affairs. Astronautical engineering.
The story of US Navy Captain Lisa Nowak is somewhat sad, though that certainly does not preclude us from laughing at her. A successful astronaut, Nowak has rapidly descended from well-respected scientist to accused attempted murderer, a public disgrace unmatched since every comment about every quarterback on every losing team for every Super Bowl game ever played.
Society expects those people who have attained a rather remarkable amount of specialized talent, such as physics, calculus, or TiVo, to also have a certain level of common sense. Occasional classroom massacres aside, those kids who broke the curve on that bear of a trig test in tenth grade tended to be quiet and not prone to second degree assault against imaginary rivals for their love interest, at least outside of the context of the latest EverQuest campaign. Yet when something like what happened to Nowak occurs, we begin to doubt our own selves…if a NASA scientist can go crazy on someone when she’s on the rag, what does that mean for the rest of us?
Nowak was charged a few days ago with attempted murder. She found out that a fellow trainee was pursuing a relationship with a NASA engineer, and, being the jealous type, decided to drive from Houston to Orlando to confront the other woman. Apparently, however, the logistics of love triangles aren’t in the NASA entrance exam, since by her own admission she had no type of relationship beyond professional with the man involved. This made the triangle a bit more like a straight line with an unwanted and uninvited dot somewhere on I-10. Though, really, I think it would be hard to tell. One can only imagine how NASA scientists hit on each other.
Engineer: Station, we seem to have some kind of interference. I can’t seem to get a clear signal from you.
Lab Assistant: Responding. What are your chances of success?
Engineer: There appears to be a 79% chance of me getting to first base with you tonight if I can grab a case of Kendall-Jackson. What’s your status?
Lab Assistant: Affirmative.
After assaulting the Kind Of But Not Really Other Woman, Nowak was found with an alarmingly varied set of tools. The police found a trench coat and black wig (the refuge of those whose only exposure to espionage is by watching old Pink Panther cartoons), a BB gun (apparently in case she needed to really, really cause a sharp, irritating pain to someone at the point of attack), a 4-inch buck knife she no doubt borrowed off of any 9-year-old boy from anywhere in the world, a brand new steel mallet, black gloves, rubber tubing, pepper spray, and (of course) a bag of diapers. Most people seem to have been puzzled by the diapers (when I find out that a woman has procured any item from the personal hygiene aisle, I immediately stop asking questions) but I, personally, am more puzzled by the steel mallet and rubber tubing. Was this some half-remembered dream from her glory days as a gold medal winner at the Olympics of the Mind? Is this some third-rate Apprentice task with no known goal? Is there some NASA fraternity we’re all better off not knowing about?
Physicist: OK, if you want to join, you have to find a way to assault your imaginary friend’s imaginary lover with nothing more than a steel mallet, rubber tubing, and one hunting accessory of your choice.
Nowak: Can I bring diapers?
Physicist: That’s it. You’re out.
Before this unfortunate incident, Nowak was a reasonably experienced astronaut. She has been in orbit, making one trip to the International Space Station in 2006. In retrospect, it should have been obvious then as it is now how foolishly insane she was when she demanded to make interstratospherical phone calls to her husband every three hours to “see who picks up”. (Several profiles seem to make a point that Nowak is the “first Italian-American to be in space,” apparently there being a heretofore untold story of discrimination against Italians in the space program. Otherwise, it seems a designation that is about as remarkable as, say, being the first Irish-American to do his taxes, or the first WASP to wear sneakers.)
Alas, for Nowak, the vagaries of the criminal justice system are not looking kindly towards her. She was originally charged simply with kidnapping, intended assault with random hardware store appliances apparently not a crime in the state of Florida (though, with the track record in Dade County and Palm Beach, there apparently aren’t many things that are classified as a crime in Florida). After finding the gun and establishing that she paid everything with cash, though, it was determined to be attempted murder, a much worse crime than kidnapping by any standards outside of Singapore.
Still if there is any redeeming value out of the entire sorry episode, it’s a small parable that we can find somewhat comforting: it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be a crazy bitch.