CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The star-crossed space cadet who allegedly made it her mission to murder the woman dating her Cape Canaveral crush helped break up his 17-year marriage, his former mother-in-law said yesterday.
Shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein's ex-wife's mom claimed yesterday that Lisa Nowak's gravitations toward the flyboy caused his marriage to crash and burn in 2005.
She said their relationship devastated his wife, Michaella, who filed for divorce.
"She broke my daughter's heart," Charlene Davis said by phone from Kona, Hawaii.
Nowak, 43, is charged with trying to kidnap and kill Oefelein's new flame, NASA worker and Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, 30.
Although Davis did not say her son-in-law was having an affair with Nowak, she strongly hinted that an inappropriate relationship had begun between the two married astronauts.
"To infer that she had something to do with breaking up their marriage — well, I'll let you draw your own conclusions," Davis said. "He did know her. All these people work very closely together."
In letters found in Nowak's car, the crazed moonbat professed her love for the spaceman.
At the same time, though, she told police that they had "more than a working relationship but less than a romantic relationship."
It is not clear what exactly sent Nowak flying off into the void, but her younger sister, Andrea Rose, said she never recovered from losing three friends in the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster, which killed seven astronauts.
"We knew Lisa was under a lot of stress," Rose told People magazine. "But there's no way of knowing how a particular person will react to stress. We love Lisa and we're worried about her well-being."
Oefelein — who flew to Florida yesterday to talk to authorities — could not be reached for comment.
Davis said that despite the divorce, Oefelein, 41, is a "wonderful guy."
"He's a great guy. It was a very sad ending to a very long relationship," she said of her daughter's breakup with Oefelein, whom she had dated since high school.
"I also feel very sorry for Mrs. Nowak. How desperate can you be to do something this stupid?"
As the new details emerged, Nowak — a married mother of three, who recently separated from her husband of 19 years, Rich — flew back to Houston.
• PHOTO ESSAY: Astronaut Love Triangle
She met there with NASA physicians for a "medical evaluation," officials at the space agency said.
A wan-looking Nowak, with NASA chief astronaut Steve Lindsey by her side, boarded a 6:30 a.m. flight from Orlando to Houston. Nowak's parents flew from Maryland to be with her, officials said.
"She looked thin, looked tired," said John Gruttadaurio, a passenger on the plane with Nowak.
Upon landing, a police escort whisked Nowak to the Johnson Space Center for the mental and physical examination.
Nowak blasted off into bizarro world on Monday, when she raced 950 miles to Florida nonstop from Houston — wearing a black wig, dark glasses and a brown trench coat so she could abduct Shipman, police said.
Nowak also wore an adult diaper so she wouldn't have to stop to use restrooms. She also brought a black duffel bag containing a 4-inch folding knife, a steel mallet, a pellet gun, 4 feet of rubber tubing, garbage bags and latex gloves, police said.
She also had printouts of e-mails and letters she had exchanged with Shipman, along with the woman's address.
When Nowak arrived, she approached Shipman late at night in the parking lot of Orlando International Airport as the victim got into her car.
"Can you help me, please?" Nowak allegedly asked Shipman. "My boyfriend was supposed to pick me up and he's not here. I've been traveling, and it's late. Can you give me a ride to the parking office?"
Shipman, noticing Nowak's strange garb, declined and said she would get help for her. Nowak then insisted on using Shipman's cellphone, but began to cry when told the battery was dead.
When Shipman rolled her window down, Nowak allegedly blasted her with pepper spray. The younger woman drove off to a tollbooth for help.
Officials later spotted Nowak dumping her wig and coat in a trash can and arrested her.
Nowak was released on $25,000 bail late Tuesday after being charged with attempted murder.
"We believe that the items that we found certainly would have caused Colleen Shipman serious bodily injury or death," said Orlando Police Sgt. Barb Jones.
Nowak's lawyer, Donald Lykkebak, called the attempted-murder charge preposterous.
"In the imaginations of the police officers, they extend these facts out into areas where the facts can't be supported," he said.
Nowak's meltdown stunned everyone who knows her.
"'Perplexed' is the word that I'm sticking with," said astronaut Chris Ferguson.
An Orlando police officer who booked her said she kept saying, "I can't believe this is happening to me," as she was being processed.
"A few times, she told us, 'I've never done anything like this before. I'm really sorry.' You could tell that she knew she had blown it," the officer told People magazine.
Meanwhile, a terrified Shipman — who in her order of protection alleges that Nowak has been stalking her for two months — has gone into hiding.
"She's just very afraid right now. She just wants everything to calm down and get on with her life," said neighbor Debbie Bartnik.
Another neighbor, Babette Merchant, said Shipman was gentle and sweet and couldn't imagine why anyone would try to hurt her.
"She's a very pleasant person and now everyone knows her. She feels very violated," she said.
At Shipman's old high school in Monaca, Pa, school superintendent Edward Elder, who is related to Shipman's grandmother, called her "perky, bouncy and compassionate."
"If you wanted a profile of 'the girl next door,' that would be Colleen," Elder said.
Meanwhile, Jon Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon who lost his wife, Laurel Clark, in the Columbia tragedy, said he stands by his old friend Nowak.
"She was the epitome of managing a very hectic career, making sacrifices to accommodate her family," he said.
"All those stresses can conspire to be overwhelming. Clearly, she suffered a lot of mental anguish."
He chided the space agency for not doing enough to monitor the mental health of its astronauts.
"They don't have to have any evaluation before or after a mission. It is only when something catastrophic happens that this ever comes to light," said Clark.
NASA plans to review its psychological screening process, and recommendations for changes could be issued as early as June, said NASA official Shana Dale.
She said the agency does not usually "meddle" in the astronauts' private lives, but "we expect [them] to conduct themselves in a way that does not bring any dishonor to the space program."