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Astronaut love-dustup mace space ace Nowak cops plea

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Former astronaut Lisa Nowak - world-famous for gassing a rival over the extramarital affections of a space shuttle pilot - pled guilty yesterday to reduced charges, in a bargain with prosecutors that will see her avoid any further jail time.

Nowak, a US Navy aviator and NASA mission-specialist, was accused of confronting air force captain Colleen Shipman in the car park at Orlando airport, having driven cross-country from Texas without rest to do so. Police said that Nowak had disguised herself in a wig and trenchcoat for the occasion and tooled up with items including a knife, mallet, surgical tubing and rubbish bags - allegedly indicative of sinister plans on her part.

Having failed to gain access to Shipman's motor, Nowak attempted to pepper-spray the younger woman through the car window. Shipman fled the scene at this point, and Nowak was subsequently braceleted by local cops.

Police later said they had found used nappies in Nowak's car, perhaps worn by her to avoid the need for comfort stops during her cross-country dash to intercept Shipman. Nowak's PR and legal team have stated that this is not true, and that the nappies had in fact been used (or possibly not used) by the astronaut's children, then four years old, when the family fled Hurricane Rita eighteen months prior to the airport car park unpleasantness.

The bad blood between Nowak, a married mother of three, and Shipman had arisen due to rivalry between the women for the affections of Navy officer and Shuttle-piloting love-rat Bill Oefelein. He had enjoyed the attentions of both ladies concurrently - and perhaps those of his then wife as well.

Legal manoeuvres following Nowak's arrest have dragged on for more than two years, with her lawyers attempting to have various evidence thrown out and at one time seeming to prepare a defence of temporary insanity. Now, however, Space.com reports that Nowak has pled guilty to felony burglary of a conveyance and a misdemeanour battery, charges considerably less serious than those of attempted kidnapping, battery and attempted burglary of a car with assault which she had originally faced.

The judge sentenced her to two days' jail - which Nowak has already served - a year of supervised probation, community service and an 8-hour anger management class. The ex-astronaut was also ordered to have no further contact with either Oefelein or Shipman, other than writing a letter of apology to the latter within 10 days.

Since the arrest, Nowak has been ejected from the astronaut corps and placed in a holding assignment by the US Navy pending today's civil court results. She is now likely to face military charges, probably including conduct unbecoming an officer.

Nowak has previously said she is "shocked and overwhelmed" at the media coverage of the case, evidently amazed that anyone could find anything interesting about a nappy-, knife- and hammer-toting, trenchcoated, bewigged astronaut mother of three setting about a younger rival for the affections of a space shuttle pilot with non-lethal riot agents. ®

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