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NASA chief: We didn't recognize Nowak was troubled

Story Highlights

• NASA chief on Nowak: We "failed as an institution" to recognize signs
• Astronaut Lisa Nowak is accused of accosting Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman
• Space agency reviewing criteria for screening astronauts
• Griffin praises astronaut corps, calling them extremely capable and conscientious
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(CNN) -- NASA's boss told lawmakers the agency failed to recognize the troubled mental state of NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, who faces charges of attempted murder and attempted kidnapping.

"Clearly she is in major trouble, and clearly we failed as an institution to recognize that she was very troubled," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat.

Griffin made the comments to lawmakers during a Wednesday budget hearing. (Full story)

Nowak, a Navy captain, is accused of accosting Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman in the parking lot of the Orlando International Airport last month and attacking her with pepper spray.

Nowak and Shipman were both allegedly vying for the affections of Navy Cmdr. Bill Oefelein, another astronaut. Nowak was placed on 30-day leave and removed from flight status and all mission-related activities.

In the days following her arrest, the space agency said it would review psychological screening assessments of astronauts. NASA also said it will review procedures to determine if any changes need to be made.

"We are looking, with two separate groups, at exactly that issue, as well as the issue of prescreening and continuing screening," Griffin said Wednesday.

He said he would make the results from the studies available to the committee. Griffin asked the committee not to take the Nowak incident as a reflection of the entire astronaut corps.

"I have known and worked with our astronauts for the better part of 30 years in one capacity or another, and they are, of course, highly selected and highly filtered and extremely capable and extremely conscientious," Griffin said.

Nowak, who has been an astronaut since 1996, flew her first space shuttle mission in July, serving as a mission specialist aboard Discovery.


Navy Capt. Lisa Nowak, 43, flew her first space shuttle mission aboard Discovery in July. She became an astronaut in 1996.


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