Video: NASA grapples with fallout

updated 2/7/2007 9:36:30 PM ET 2007-02-08T02:36:30

NASA said Wednesday it would review its psychological screening process in light of an astronaut's arrest on charges she tried to murder a woman she believed was her rival for a space shuttle pilot's affections.

Deputy NASA Administrator Shana Dale said the space agency would evaluate the process "to determine if any modifications are needed."

Astronaut Lisa Nowak returned to Texas and headed to Johnson Space Center for a medical assessment Wednesday, a day after being charged in Florida.

Before Nowak's arrest, she had shown no signs of instability, Dale said.

"As you know it's a very tight-knit community that cared about each other," Dale said.

Nowak's commercial flight was met on the tarmac by a police car, and the astronaut, her head covered by a jacket, was escorted down the stairs and into the waiting squad car, then driven away.

"She looked thin, looked tired," said John Gruttadaurio, a passenger who was aboard Nowak's flight from Orlando, Fla.

NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters would not say if the medical assessment included a psychological evaluation.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Nowak had been in a Florida courtroom on charges of attempted murder, attempted kidnapping and three other crimes stemming from what police described as a love triangle involving a fellow astronaut. She was released on bail and ordered to stay away from the other woman and to wear a monitoring device.

Nowak became an astronaut after winning a series of Navy service awards, and she flew on Discovery in July, where she and crewmate Stephanie Wilson were known as "the Robochicks" because they operated the shuttle's robotic arm.

Dale said Nowak's arrest would not have a long-term impact on the space program.

"This is a tragic event that impacted many lives, but this is a unique situation that we're facing," Dale said.

NASA officials declined to comment when asked if Nowak's arrest meant the end of her NASA career.

"That's speculation," said Bob Cabana, deputy director of the Johnson Space Center.

Nowak's children were with her husband, Richard, who works for a contractor at the Johnson Space Center, Cabana said.

Nowak was being replaced as a ground communicator for the next space shuttle mission, a job in which she would talk to the astronauts from Houston during their flight.

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