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Nowak astronaut romanta-scuffle affair: New evidence

'There was no molehill' insists lawyer

The case of ex-spacewoman and US Navy captain Lisa Nowak grinds on. It was reported this week that her lawyers have asked that charges against her be dismissed, on the grounds that she may not in fact have done a good job of pepper-spraying a romantic adversary for the affections of a space shuttle pilot.

Here on the Reg astro-scandal desk, we've compiled a rough timeline of the events in the Nowak affair:

September 2005: Nowak and her family flee Hurricane Rita, during which journey her four-year-old twins either do or don't use some nappies in her car. A statement supplied to the Reg by Nowak's PR isn't entirely clear.

2006: Nowak flies in space as a mission specialist aboard the shuttle. Begins an affair with married space pilot Bill Oefelein. Oefelein concurrently enjoys the affections of air force officer Colleen Shipman and possibly those of his wife too.

February 2007: Nowak drives from Texas to Florida without sleep and confronts Shipman in an airport car park. Prosecutors say that she had disguised herself in a wig, trenchcoat and dark glasses, and had various items in her car including a knife, mallet, surgical tubing and rubbish bags. They say that Nowak, on failing to gain entry to Shipman's car, pepper-sprayed her through the driver's window. Shipman fled, ending the incident.

Police also state in their reports that used nappies were found in the car, perhaps worn by Nowak during her 1,000 mile cross-country dash to minimise on comfort stops. Nowak's lawyer, however, says that in fact the nappies were child-sized and some had been used by her twin daughters 18 months previously while escaping from Hurricane Rita. In any event, the police decline to hold the absorbent underwear as evidence and as such it cannot be produced at trial.

Subsequently legal proceedings have dragged on, with much debate as to whether statements made by Nowak to the Florida cops, and items in her car, can legally be produced at trial.

Now it appears that her defence team have received a new document, only now disclosed by the prosecution. It is a report by fire-department medics who treated Shipman after her encounter with the troubled astronaut, and it reportedly says that Shipman "denied any direct contact with pepper spray and was not experiencing any burning sensations or medical problems."

Nowak's lawyers say that failure by the prosecution to hand over this document means that the charges of attempted kidnapping, burglary and battery should be dismissed. If they aren't, they ask that no mention of less-lethal riot agents be made at the trial.

"The police made a mountain out of a molehill in this case and now we have learned there was never a molehill to start with," Nowak lawyer Donald Lykkebak said in a statement this week.

Captain Nowak was dismissed from the astronaut corps after the charges were brought, and remains in a holding assignment with the US Navy. Depending on the results of the civil legal proceedings, she could face naval disciplinary measures in future. ®

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