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Astronaut's star was on the rise at NASA

Story Highlights

• Lisa Nowak became interested in space watching the moon landing as a child
• Nowak's career appeared to be soaring; her first shuttle mission was in July
• Nowak charged with attempted first-degree murder; she faces three other charges
By Peggy Mihelich
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(CNN) -- Astronaut Lisa Nowak's career was on the rise at NASA. The naval captain completed her first space shuttle mission in July. Years of hard work and dedication were paying off.

But Nowak's high-flying career came crashing down Monday after her arrest in an alleged kidnapping plot involving a purported romantic rival at the Orlando, Florida, airport.

The 43-year-old returned home Wednesday to Houston, Texas, after court appearances on charges of attempted murder and attempted kidnapping. (Full story)

The charges stem from an alleged love triangle in which Nowak and Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, 30, were competing for the affections of astronaut Bill Oefelein, police said. (Full story)

Nowak was freed Tuesday on bonds totaling $25,500 and was ordered to wear a satellite-tracking device while awaiting trial. (Watch a shackled Nowak as attorneys discuss bail with a judge Video)

NASA placed Nowak on 30-day leave and removed her from flight status and all mission-related activities. (Watch how police say a NASA love triangle went awry Video)

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic event," said Michael Coats, director of Johnson Space Center in Houston, in a statement. "The charges against Lisa Nowak are serious ones that must be decided by the judicial system."

Family life

The astronaut's family said she had separated from her husband, Richard Nowak, of 19 years in recent weeks. They have a teenage son and young twin daughters.

A statement from the family called Nowak "an extremely caring and dedicated mother to her three children."

"Considering both her personal and professional life, these alleged events are completely out of character and have come as a tremendous shock to our family," the statement said.

In a 2005 NASA interview, the astronaut talked about the time space training took her away from her family.

"It's a sacrifice for our own personal time and our families and the people around us. But I do think it's worth it because if you don't explore and take risks and go do all these things, then everything will stay the same. People aren't like that. We want to explore and expand and know more about the place around us," she said.

Colleagues, friend offer support

Following Monday's arrest, retired Air Force Col. Steve Lindsey, Nowak's supervisor at Johnson Space Center, and Chris Ferguson, who piloted the space shuttle in September, came to support their colleague in Orlando.

Lindsey said he came to help Nowak "like we would any employee at NASA if they were to get into this situation."

"We're a close family, and we try to take care of our own," he added.

Jonathan Clark, who lost his wife, Laurel, in the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster, said he was shocked about the charges against his friend.

Clark recalled how Nowak rushed to help his family after his wife's death.

"Lisa just stepped right in there with us. Obviously, my son losing his mom has this tremendous void in his life and Lisa, who also looks a lot like Laurel, just was able to come in and be a part of that, and it was just a wonderful thing," Clark told CNN.

"She is really a wonderful, good, caring person, and I think that's important for people to remember, that she above all else was and is a wonderful person. And you have to find forgiveness and love in your heart to get her through this."

Interest in space as a child

Nowak was born in Washington. Growing up in Rockville, Maryland, NASA's manned space-flight program left an impression on the youngster.

"I remember when I was about 5 years old the moon landing and watching those astronauts, and I thought that was very exciting," she told NASA in her 2005 interview.

She watched the development of the space shuttle program, in particular when NASA started including women astronauts.

"It started to look like something that I really could do. I didn't necessarily plan what I did after that with the specific goal of getting there, because it seemed like such a long shot, but I kind of had it in the back of my head, " she said.

Her interest in flying, computers and "scientific things" led her to the U.S. Naval Academy, where she studied aerospace engineering. She went on to earn her wings as a naval flight officer and was a naval test pilot.

Nowak joined the NASA astronaut corps in 1996. She performed technical duties in the Astronaut Office Operations Planning Branch and was a primary communicator in mission control with orbiting space station crews. (Watch what it takes to become an astronaut Video)

Last year's shuttle mission

In 2004, she was bumped up from a shuttle flight slated for June 2007 to a mission in July 2006 -- STS-121.

"I was very excited. I'd been training for many years and supporting the astronaut and space program in different ways," she told NASA in 2006 preflight interview.

"... It was very educational and interesting to be involved in all those other phases, but actually going there and doing it is a goal that every astronaut has, and to finally find out that I would get to participate in that way was very rewarding."

Nowak and her six crew mates -- commander Lindsey, pilot Mark Kelly and mission specialists Mark Fossum, Stephanie Wilson, Piers Sellers and Thomas Reiter -- launched aboard the shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on July 4, 2006.

As a mission specialist, Nowak was responsible for operating the international space station's robotic arm during the mission's three spacewalks. She logged almost 13 days in space.

"We really had a lot of fun up there, and we worked really hard," Nowak told "Larry King Live" on July 28, 2006, after her mission. "But coming back to Earth and seeing your family and seeing everybody, the whole team that worked real hard to make this mission happen was very gratifying, and of course it was nice to come back and have some fresh food and a shower, too."


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



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