Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Well, she was no rocket scientist...except she was.

What on God's green earth was she thinking? How do you make a living as a rocket scientist for god's sake and then develop some kind of maniacal plan to murder someone because of a love triangle?

I'm trying to understand this. Astronaut Lisa Nowak drives some 900 + miles (say from here to South Carolina) to catch up with her rival, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. She wasn't looking for a friendly chat about their mutual friend, astronaut Bill Oefelein. It doesn't appear she was, anyway, since she carried pepper spray, a knife, a mallet and a BB gun with her. But the truth is, I don't want to get into the details of the case against Nowak or the state of her marriage or her disintegrating romance.

The case itself - your classic love triangle - isn't all that surprising. People have battled romantic rivals for thousands of years, often with tragic results. I guess the astonishing part of this story for me is the fact that Nowak is without a doubt one very intelligent woman. She is the cliche: she's a rocket scientist!!! How could she ever imagine this was a good plan, worth following through, and possibly risking the rest of her life as a free woman should she get caught? How could she imagine causing harm to Captain Shipman was a reasonable idea, that would ultimately gain the affection her lover? Hasn't she ever seen an episode of CSI? You can't get away with anything if you're a criminal. The CSI team would find just a single blade of grass indiginous to Texas underneath Shipman's unconscious body and one hour later someone would be knocking on Nowak's door. Plus, she was no career criminal, just a woman with (sick, twisted) love in her heart.

Most of all, here's a question that's bothering me: is this the kind of person we're sending into space? I mean, if this story were about a banker from Baltimore or an accountant from Albany, we'd think it was strange and erratic and that she was evidently disturbed, but Nowak isn't any of those things. She's a rocket scientist!! NASA claims her state of mind showed no signs that she was "troubled" and perhaps contemplating an attempt on another woman's life that would require her to drive almost one thousand miles to accost her, and wear adult diapers during the entire trip so she didn't have to stop for bathroom breaks. Then again, I don't know what kinds of signs one would exhibit to indicate this behavior was in the offing. Clipping coupons for Depends? Choosing "quickest" when given a choice of routes from Houston to Orlando on Mapquest?

But what exactly was NASA going to say? "We knew she was a whack job but boy, could she manipulate that robotic arm. All in all, we thought she was worth the risk." Doubt it. What's going on up there in all that weightlessness? Is it party party party? The ultimate out of town trip for the married astronauts?

Now of course, NASA is going to review all of their policies regarding personnel and screening and how they can keep knife-carrying, pepper-spraying, diaper-wearing astronauts on the second or third tier lists for the next shuttle flight. Good idea. The problem is, your can't write HR rules when it comes to passion. Passion is passion is passion. And if NASA can figure out how to regulate their hiring practices to account for passion among the ranks, I want to read that report.

Certainly Nowak has some problems. But despite her status as an elite scientist, a shuttle astronaut and an employee of NASA, she is still a human being. A flawed human being who went way beyond the pale in terms of saving her romance and her relationship.

The only thing that will complete this story for me is when the press somehow links it all back to President Bush and how some policy he put into place contributed somehow to NASA's shame. It's coming.

More soon -

No comments: