Astronauts: February 2007 Archives

Editor's note: Today's edition of the Washington Post has a half page color advertisement on page A12 [close up]. The ad was placed by United Technologies and focuses on a rather detailed diagram of how a spacesuit is constructed.

Alas, one thing is missing: the urine collection system i.e. "diaper" that is worn underneath. Normally, this would not be a big deal. Yet, given recent detailed news about how astronauts use diapers, you'd think that such a detailed diagram - one that deliberately begs the question as to how complex and functional these suits are - could do a public service by showing exactly how a spacesuit really works - including waste management.

Alas, UT not only avoids that issue - they compound the omission by putting the following quote in the ad - thus raising the topic: "Which leads us to the #1 question: How do the astronauts go to the bathroom? Like everyone else".

"Like everyone else"? I don't think so. Would you lock yourself in a bulky body bag for hours at a time without a way to pee?

Editor's note: According to the National Academies of Science, "Review of NASA's Space Flight Health Standards-Setting Process" (Letter Report) is due to be released in March by the Institute of Medicine. This report "Assesses the current process by which NASA establishes space flight health standards such as fitness-for-duty criteria and limits on radiation and other exposures. The standards are intended to mitigate health risks astronauts face during long missions."

The Curious Use of Combination Locks By NASA During Space Shuttle Missions, SpaceRef

"Given the recent problems Lisa Nowak experienced - problems that emerged only months after she flew on a Space Shuttle mission - questions have arisen as to how NASA might deal with an individual who exhibited problems during a mission - as well as how to catch such problems on the ground ahead of time.

The following interview was conducted with NASA's Chief Safety and Mission Assurance Officer, astronaut Bryan O'Connor in April 2006 - a few months before Lisa Nowak's space shuttle mission to the International Space Station. As such, his thoughts certainly represent his recent thinking about safety.

As such, it is somewhat disconcerting to read a recollection wherein O'Connor talks about adding a combination lock to Space Shuttle Columbia's middeck hatch on STS-40 in 1991 due to concerns over the competency of several payload specialists. Moreover, he repeats several times that he thought this whole story was "humorous" and "funny"."

Huggies On-Orbit

NASA Still Flies Huggies Products in Space, SpaceRef

"There has been some recent interest in the sorts of diaper products astronauts use in space. In addition to full sized adult diapers used during Space Shuttle launches and landings, and spacewalks, there are diaper related products on board the International Space Station (ISS) as well. As was noted in a previous article in December 2005, NASA flies Huggies brand products aboard the ISS. This practice continues today."

Editor's note: An intellectually uplfiting game from the Game Show Network: "Astronaut Moonstalker: The happy couple is on a romantic getaway in space. But a jealous lady astronaut is flying her Space Lander to the Moon. The Mission: Terminate 'Love Fest.' Beware of Moon Slugs, dark caverns, the launch pad and more. In space no one can hear you pee."

As I noted when I posted a link to the "Jealous" Astronaut Video on YouTube, the challenge to NASA: imagine if you could harness and/or inspire the same amount of creativity and personal effort toward things that promote the exploration of space - and perhaps highlight some of the many things NASA does spectacularly well? How do you work to shift the discussion away from the bad behavior of a few astronauts and focus on the things they do that should make us all proud - and inspire young people to follow their example? The "game" is located below:

As low as an astronaut can go, Opinion, Houston Chronicle

"Nowak's actions set a standard of sorts to define what an astronaut can do, and not be asked for his or her resignation. Who else at NASA can stalk and then pepper spray a rival in an extramarital affair, and keep his or her job? This fits a clear pattern at NASA. Rise high enough in the organization and your responsibility for flawed actions ceases to be an issue. Not a single major participant in the Columbia disaster has been fired. Not one. In the seemingly unlikely event that Nowak avoids prison, history tells us that she will survive in her job."

Editor's note: The Houston Chronicle has certainly stooped to a new low by publishing a rambling diatribe by space policy wannabe Robert Oler - one wherein he cites the actions of one troubled individual as being representative of the job performance of all within the agency. Oler's comparison is not only unsupportable it is despicable and insulting to the vast majority of employees at NASA.

Also, FYI, there is no "Clear Lake Group". In reality it is two guys, one of whom does not even live in Clear Lake, who pretend to understand space policy - and sucker naive publications into publishing their rants. Indeed, Oler is so sloppy when it comes to detail that he seems not to have noticed that he got the spelling of Lindsey's name wrong half a dozen times.

Editor's update: Mr. Oler has some further (sickening) thoughts on Lisa Nowak - check out this link - scroll down a bit - its the first posting by Mr. Oler under "comments".

Comments? Send them to Comments thus far:

Woman in astronaut case drops request for protective order, Houston Chronicle

"Colleen Shipman, 30, withdrew her petition for "protection against repeat violence" Thursday, officials said today. Nowak still faces charges of attempted murder and attempted kidnapping."

Astronaut files written not guilty plea, AP

"A NASA astronaut has entered a written plea of not guilty to a charge of attempted murder, according to court records."

Arrested Astronaut's Diaper Allegedly Being Auctioned On eBay,

"Some people are trying to sell dozens of items on eBay that are supposedly connected to astronaut Lisa Nowak, including a diaper."

Want to fly with NASA? Don't admit your problems, New Scientist

"We can never be sure how much Lisa Nowak's job or her space flight aboard the shuttle Discovery last July affected her state of mind. But her arrest for attempted murder last week has raised questions over the stress astronauts must cope with and the processes in place to deal with problems when they occur."

The Jealous Astronaut

Editor's note: Have a look at "The Jealous Astronaut". This short animated cartoon has a certain retro Jetsons/I Dream of Jeannie thing going on. It has been one week since this story broke. People were posting YouTube videos within hours. Now, more sophisticated animations are appearing online.

The challenge to NASA: imagine if you could harness and/or inspire the same amount of creativity and personal effort toward things that promote the exploration of space - and perhaps highlight some of the many things NASA does spectacularly well? How do you work to shift the discussion away from the bad behavior of a few astronauts and focus on the things they do that should make us all proud - and inspire young people to follow their example? The video is also on YouTube (below)

Female Role Models in Space

"Manned" Mission to Mars, Smart Girls Rock

"I can hear it now. "Just look what might happen." "Well you remember what happened with Lisa Nowak back in 2007." "There's proof right there that women should not be sent on these first few missions." The "Nowak Event" will overshadow Shannon Lucid's record-breaking stay in space, Eileen Collins' turn as the first woman (in the Universe) to command a space mission, Cady Coleman's excellent work with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and so many other "big steps" for women in the space program."

Prayers and questions aplenty in astronaut case -- but few answers, Houston Chronicle

"But [NASA editor Keith] Cowing said rumors are circulating on the Internet and even around NASA, and he's worried that NASA, which has struggled with image problems, won't be able to stop a new perception of its astronaut corps as being wild and promiscuous. A recent "Saturday Night Live" skit full of sexual innuendo poked fun at the situation, with an actor portraying Oefelein explaining it by saying "Look at me, I'm a hunk!"

"Unfortunately, the impression you get is that the astronaut office is a bunch of frat boys on prowl at 'Girls Gone Wild' because we have just one data point to make judgment." The silence of most astronauts raises more questions, he said. Morin was the only one, out of dozens of astronauts, who returned a call seeking comment.

"It's incumbent on the astronauts corps, for its own integrity, to (address) this," Cowing said."

Editor's note: Just to be clear: I was refering to the impression that the media gets - and then shares with the public - when an event like this happens and no one at NASA tries to dispute the characterizations that are swirling about and provide a picture of the actual situation.

Billy O Does SNL

Editor's: In case you missed it, Billy O made an appearance on Saturday Night Live last night and charmed Weekend Update host Amy Poehler with a variety of lines - including a few diaper references. You can even go to this official NBC discussion board topic: "Astronaut Diaper Woman, write your joke for the story that writes itself" and post your own diaper jokes.

I have also seen online references where people use "going NASA" as a replacement for the 'gone wacko' phrase "going postal". This ain't good folks.

Alas, Isn't it curious that NASA often can't get itself into the news when it wants to - and can't get out of the news when it would rather not be there.

At least there's an upside (of sorts). Previously, a surprising number of NASA-related videos people posted on YouTube seemed to focus primarily on UFOs or faked moon landings. Now they seem to focus on Lisa Nowak's misadventures.

Imagine if people (especially the 'next generation') were as equally inspired to produce and post videos which focused on the promise and adventure of space exploration. What does NASA need to do in order to help that happen? The PR certainly can't get much worse.

Sloppy Reporting From AP

Producer Options Astronaut Kidnap Tale, AP

"Granada America, which has produced made-for-TV films based on other real-life personalities, optioned a Times article written by reporter John Schwartz, who will serve as a researcher on the project."

Editor's note:This AP story is TOTALLY FALSE. John Schwartz has nothing to do with this project. AP has recalled this story but it seems not everyone got the message.

Re-Tooling The Right Stuff

What makes an astronaut crack?, Opinion, Homer Hickam, LA Times

"As a former NASA astronaut training manager responsible for crew training for shuttle missions, I was not entirely surprised by the initial reports of the sad, bizarre case of Lisa Marie Nowak. This isn't the first case of astronauts having difficulties in their personal lives. Usually, the straying astronaut simply resigns or retires, and everything is hushed up. But being charged with assault, attempted kidnapping and attempted murder is far greater than anything I ever observed or imagined could occur. Perhaps this tragedy will bring some of the agency's long-ignored problems into the open."

Nowak Saga Update

Astronaut takes leave to join victim of alleged attack, Houston Chronicle

"Astronaut Bill Oefelein has taken a leave from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to join girlfriend Colleen Shipman in Florida following the alleged attack on her by astronaut Lisa Nowak, a space agency official said Thursday."

Nowak's lawyer gains reputation as 'smart and aggressive',Orlando Sentinel

"Donald Lykkebak doesn't shy from high-profile cases. So it was no surprise to see him in court Tuesday representing Lisa Marie Nowak, the NASA astronaut accused of attempted murder. In his 36-year legal career, the prominent lawyer has represented defendants accused of selling missiles to Middle Eastern countries, a Disney executive's wife accused of stealing $1 million and a 540-pound man who claimed obesity drove him to traffic in cocaine."

Life after space often a challenge, USA Today

"Nowak's arrest Monday on attempted murder and other charges has drawn attention to the pressures on America's astronauts. All cope with exhausting schedules and the deflation of literally coming down to Earth after a flight. Female astronauts face extra difficulties in balancing work and family, a struggle heightened by the unusual nature of the job."

Former NASA doctor says agency must do more, MSNBC

"NASA's failure in this area has always been an overreliance on astronaut's own assessment of their mental health and their inability to recognize that interpersonal issues, stress and psychological factors can have a profound impact on performance. This reticence to submit to formal psychological support programs can lead, [Veteran NASA flight surgeon and professional psychiatrist Patricia] Santy argues, to a worrisome practice secret, private counseling shielded from NASA."

Fit For Flight?, Newsweek

NASA has announced that it will be conducting a review of its psychological screening and evaluation procedures. What would you recommend the agency do differently?

"... I see the news coming out with headlines like "Lust in Space" or "Astronuts," I certainly would be reluctant to reveal an interpersonal issue, and I can certainly imagine why astronauts would be reluctant to reveal that when it jeopardizes their flight status. Those are the kinds of attitudes that need to be changed."

Feedback on the Nowak Saga

Editor's note: OK. I have spouted off enough on the Nowak saga. What do you think about all of this? Send your comments to Some comments thus far:

Nowak Press Event

NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale's Statement on Lisa Nowak

"We are very concerned about the tragic situation involving astronaut Lisa Nowak and are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of Lisa, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, and Astronaut Bill Oefelein. This is, of course, a personal and legal matter -- and NASA is, therefore, limited in its involvement and ability to discuss many of the details. However, we know there are a number of questions about NASA policies and procedures, and we would like to address those today, to the extent that we can."

Editor's note: Check this Flight schedule for NASA2 Gulfstream - from Ellington Field to and back from the KSC SLF. Was this routine or was it related to the Lisa Nowak case? Using government transport to get her home was discussed internally at NASA. Nowak was released late Monday afternoon. In addition, two astronauts flew to Orlando Tuesday on government T-38 jets to "assist authorities and NASA personnel as needed" according to JSC PAO. It is certainly good that NASA takes care of its own - and speaks well of the people involved. But is it proper for taxpayer dollars to be spent on jet aircraft flying back and forth to handle a legal situation created by an employee on their own time?

Editor's Wednesday update: Lisa Nowak is arriving via commercial jet in Houston right now. If you examine the link above which tracks NASA2 you'll see that it took off from a point east of Orlando - at KSC- which would violate the court's limits on Nowak's travel. None the less, the issue of sending NASA personnel - astronauts and psych experts - via government transport - for a civil servant's personnal legal troubles - remains at issue.

Editor's Wednesday update: I just spoke with Eileen Hawley at NASA JSC PAO. She told me that the flight orders for the 6 Feb flight of NASA@ to KSC were signed back on 27 January and that this was a routine ISS training flight. As for sending NASA personnel to Florida, she said that Steve Lindsey was sent out when it was only known that Lisa Nowak had been arrested (no reason given) and that his job as her supervisor was to find out what was going on with one of his employees. Events then unfolded quickly after that.

"We will not be granting interviews at this time, but do want to issue the following statement in response to numerous media requests."

Silence From The 9th Floor

Editor's note: It has been 24 hours since the Lisa Nowak story broke. NASA management knew about it some time before it became public knowledge. Yet, with the exception of some brief comments from JSC PAO and briefer comments from astronaut Steve Lindsey, the agency is seemingly incapable of releasing an official statement. As such, the media are in complete control of this story and are running away with it at a frantic pace. If NASA does not exert some decisive leadership and say something soon, they will never regain any sort of influence on this issue and it will be defined by the likes of Fox, late night TV, and bloggers.

Editor's update: After taking 24 hours to figure out what to say, this statement was finally released just after 6:00 pm EST. I am certain that a dozen lawyers poured over it all day. Indeed, if they had more time, I am certain they could have made it even shorter! Curiously, although terse and measured, the words spoken by Steve Lindsey earlier today were much more personal.

The following is a statement from Michael Coats, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, regarding the status of astronaut Lisa Nowak.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic event. The charges against Lisa Nowak are serious ones that must be decided by the judicial system. She is officially on 30-day leave and has been removed from flight status and all mission-related activities. We will continue to monitor developments in the case."

Editor's note: Was is strangely absent from all of this is the fact that there is a victim in this sad saga - and it is not Lisa Nowak. Rather, it is the woman who was sprayed in the face with pepper spray - and stalked (so she alleges) for more than 2 months.

Arrest mars stellar career, Reuters

"But despite the superstar culture, NASA has always known that its astronauts are "actually rather normal people," said Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee who now runs the Web site. "The only difference between her (Nowak) and any other technology professional is that sometimes she gets to walk around in a silver space suit. She's subject to all the temptations and weaknesses as everybody else," Cowing told Reuters."

Editor's note: The 'silver spacesuit' comment was a reference to an earlier comment I made about the "Right Stuff" image many associate with astronauts.

Crashing to Earth, Dr. Sanity (Pat Santy)

"I'm sure it is shocking to find out that they have unhappy marriages; engage in affairs; have problems with their kids; act out in all sorts of inappropriate ways. Why, they even get depressed at times. Of course, you don't hear about this side of things too much. Nor should astronauts private lives be the subject of Hollywood gossip columns."

Astronaut posts bail after being charged with attempted first-degree murder, USA Today

"After Laurel Clark died in the Columbia accident in 2003, Nowak helped Jonathan Clark sort out the paperwork from the Navy and also cared for the Clarks' son Iian. "Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and that's certainly the case here." Clark, who has voiced criticism of NASA since his wife's death, says the agency has turned a blind eye to both astronauts' mental troubles and their extramarital affairs. "Now you seee this is the consequence of not dealing with it you have someone whose life is destroyed," he said. "Maybe they'll start dealing with it."



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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries in the Astronauts category from February 2007.

Astronauts: May 2004 is the previous archive.

Astronauts: March 2007 is the next archive.

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