It seemed that Lisa Nowak had all the right stuff. As a NASA astronaut, she went into space as a mission flight engineer on July 4, 2006. She was a crew member on a 13-day Shuttle mission, operating the robotic arm for several spacewalks. A married mom of three young kids, she was also a flight officer in the United States Navy.
But on February 5, 2007, her accomplished life began to shatter.
Nowak had driven 900 miles from Houston to Orlando. In her car, she had a trench coat, black wig, pepper spray, a BB gun, rope, trash bags, an 8-inch knife and other items. Police reports claimed that she had space diapers with her, so she wouldn’t have to stop for bathroom breaks.
In the early morning hours of that day, Nowak was wearing a black wig and trench coat when she approached Colleen Shipman’s car in the parking lot of Orlando International Airport. She banged on the Shipman’s window and begged for a ride. When Shipman rolled down her window, Nowak sprayed her with pepper spray and tried to get in the car.
Shipman fled the scene, shaken but unhurt. Police arrested Nowak on attempted murder and kidnapping charges.
The story soon became international news when details emerged about the altercation. Shipman had recently begun dating Bill Oefelein, an astronaut who had once dated Nowak. The resulting case was dubbed the “astronaut love triangle.”
The bizarre attack plunged Oefelein and Shipman’s new relationship into an unwelcome national spotlight. It caused consequences for their careers and turned them into a punch line on late night talk shows.
The couple eventually got married. Colleen Shipman Oefelein spoke out to PEOPLE last year in the only interview she has ever given. “[After the attack] I thought, ‘I’m going to be okay,'” she recalls. “But it never was okay after that.”
It was a dark time for Bill Oefelein, as well. He was misperceived as a philanderer, even though his relationship with Nowak — who was separated at the time — had ended before he’d dated Shipman.
Nowak also faced severe repercussions. In 2008, she and her husband, Richard, divorced. She pleaded guilty in 2009 to a reduced charge of burglary and misdemeanor battery. During the court hearing, she said she was “sincerely sorry” for her actions, and promised that she would never contact Oefelein again. She was given a year of probation. In 2010, she received an “other than honorable discharge” from the Navy.
Their Lives Today
Ten years after the infamous attack, everyone has tried to move forward. The Oefeleins married in 2010 and settled in Alaska. They run the website Adventurewrite.com, which promotes writing for kids. Shipman works as a writer. She published a first novel, Eerie, in December 2015 under the pen name C.M. McCoy. They have a 5-year-old son, Junior.
Nowak, now 54, has vanished from public life. Her oldest son just turned 25; her twin daughters are now 16.
She lives in a modest home in Texas and works in the private sector. She does not give interviews, and has tried to put the past behind her. Despite the tough times in her past, her attorney told PEOPLE last year that she’s in a better place: “She’s doing well.”