When NASA fired disgraced astronaut Lisa Nowak earlier this month, we predicted that the Navy Captain would be assigned to some low-visibility post at one of the service’s training bases in Texas, probably Corpus Christi or Kingsville. The posting would give the Navy two things: (1) A place to “park” Captain Nowak while the civilian justice system runs its course, and (2) Give the service time to decide what punishment–if any–might be imposed on the former astronaut. Currently, Nowak is facing charges of kidnapping and assault and battery in connection with last month’s run-in with a romantic rival in Florida.
We certainly don’t claim prophet status at In From the Cold, but our prediction about Nowak’s next assignment came true yesterday. The Navy released a statement announcing that Captain Nowak will begin a new job next month, as part of the staff of the Naval Air Training Command in Corpus Christi. According to a Navy spokeman, Nowak will work on developing curriculum and training programs when she begins her new duties next month.
In our relentless pursuit of accuracy, we should point out that we envisioned Captain Nowak moving into some sort of “special assistant” job, often given to officers who are waiting for a key billet to open up, or (in this case) to someone with legal troubles awaiting adjudication. But a large headquarters staff is another, convenient assignment for someone in Nowak’s predicament. For a training command, curriculum and training programs are critical mission functions, occupying the efforts of dozens of staff officers and NCOs.
As a Captain (O-6), Nowak would normally run a division within one of the command’s various directorates. In Air Force terms (my field of reference), she would run a three-letter office within a two-letter directorate, say the Chief of Training (A3T), within the Operations (A3) directorate. Obviously, the Navy uses a different designation system, and I’ll leave it up to readers who wore “the wings of gold” to provide clarification in that area.
But the key word here is “normally.” With Captain Nowak facing criminal charges in Florida (and potential UCMJ action after that), there’s no way the Navy will put her in charge of large staff division. More than likely, she will become the special assistant to another O-6, handling limited duties within that organization. I don’t expect the Navy will release Nowak’s exact job title or duty location, to give her some semblance of privacy, and make it more difficult for the press to harass her. Nowak’s “new” office still has a mission to perform, and frequent phone calls from the media (and cranks in the general population) would only impede that process.
Still unanswered is how NASA–and the Navy–plan to deal with Nowak’s former lover, Commander William Oefelein. While Commander Oefelein is single, he had a long affair with a married superior, Captain Nowak. That leaves him open to charges of adultery and fraternization under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), should the Navy decide to pursue the matter. But NASA shows no indication that it plans to remove Oefelein from the astronaut corps, and there’s no sign the service will sanction him for his conduct.
As of this writing, Captain Nowak is apparently on leave, and won’t start her new job until early April. Her trial in Florida could get underway as early as July. The woman Nowak is accused of attacking, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman, is expected to testify during those proceedings. It’s likely that Captain Nowak will apply for retirement before then (if she hasn’t already), but I doubt the Navy brass will approve that request, given the case’s high visibility, and the option of military punishment after that the is concluded.