I grew up on Florida’s Space Coast. My father worked for the space program from the time I was in first grade through my last year in high school. He split his time between Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Kennedy. Watching the space launches, no matter how minor, were a regular family activity. Weekends at the Officers’ Club, where the astronauts hung out when they were in town, were routine.
Whenever a new book about the space program is released, I’m buying it. I devoured “Space: A Memoir” by Jesse Lee Kercheval, “The Astronaut Wives Club” by Lisa Koppel and “The Dream Life of Astronauts” by Patrick Ryan (all recommended).
I’m a stickler for accuracy about the setting, the era and the depiction of the space program.
“Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak” by Kimberly C. Moore, is a worthy entry into the Astronaut Lit canon. Moore, an investigative reporter for the Lakeland Ledger, covered Nowak’s story for Florida Today.
Most people can sum up what they know about Lisa Nowak in one sentence: Astronaut drives from Houston to Orlando wearing a disposable diaper to confront lover’s new girlfriend in the hopes of getting back together. That event, which took place in 2007, is certainly covered, but Moore goes deeper than the salacious details to tell the story of a woman who is intelligent, well-educated, skilled at her job and struggling with inner demons while trying to get ahead in a male-dominated profession.
Nowak was in a troubled marriage when she began an affair with fellow astronaut William Oefelein. After her husband moved out, Nowak and Oefelein continued their relationship even though Nowak could have been court-martialed for having an affair while she was still married.
Moore describes Nowak’s space flight, her lone accomplishment as an astronaut, a feat only a few hundred before her had experienced. She tells how Nowak was devastated after the death of her close friend, Dr. Laurel Clark, who died on the 2003 Columbia shuttle after the spacecraft disintegrated upon reentry. Moore writes that NASA assigned Nowak to assist Clark’s family after the Columbia tragedy and she never got over the death of her friend.
Around the same time, Nowak learned she was not assigned to any of the remaining shuttle missions due to her “prickly’’ and “uncooperative” personality. Yet things were going well with Oefelein – until they weren’t – and she found out he was in love with Colleen Shipman, a captain stationed at Patrick Air Force Base.
When Nowak discovered her rival was scheduled to fly into Orlando, she bought a knife, a BB pistol and a can of pepper spray. She took off for Florida to confront Shipman in the hopes of winning her lover back, almost four years to the day of the Columbia tragedy.
Although Moore was unable to interview any of the principals involved, she does a good job of weaving facts of Nowak’s arrest and trial with details about her life, career and mental health.
Who should read this: Anyone who enjoys a well-researched, modern day tragedy and reading about the space program, the lives of astronauts and the challenges women face to get ahead.
Who should not read this: If you’re not a fan of romance and true crime – or salacious details – you might not enjoy this book.
Bonus: Moore, who lives in central Florida, gets the setting right and provides a detailed look into NASA, the space program and the lives of astronauts.