Astronaut Lisa Nowak soared across headlines in recent days, not for her July shuttle mission to the international space station, but for the bizarre details surrounding her arrest Monday and subsequent charges for attempted murder and kidnapping.
Nowak separated recently from her husband of 19 years, with whom she had three children. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and has worked at NASA for more than 20 years, according to her family’s statement.
News reports detail Nowak’s strange fall from grace, including the fact she wore adult diapers so she wouldn’t have to stop during her 900-mile road trip to confront Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman, who Nowak allegedly considered a rival for the affections of another astronaut, William A. Oefelein. Nowak reportedly sprayed Shipman in the eyes with pepper spray and tried to force herself into Shipman’s car.
The news media and the blogosphere have jumped on this story, and reasonably so. The tainted astronaut hero, the intrigue and the headline puns were too much to resist. It was tough to choose which New York tabloid had the better front-page joke, the Post with “Lust in Space” or the Daily News with “Dark Side of the Loon.”
“Most of the time the tabloid papers in this town drive me to despair for the future of the human race,” says Andrew Willett of Strange Radiation. “But every now and then I realize that they also make me proud to be a New Yorker.”
Meanwhile, media outlets that took the story seriously, like the CBS Evening News, were mocked by bloggers. “Last night Katie Couric asked some suit at NASA if there would be stricter emotional evaluations for its astronauts,” writes Sky Windows. “I laughed so hard.”
Blogger Bella Rossa similarly faults the CBS Early Show: “Interesting how the morning news programs are covering it from an [angle of] ‘if an astronaut could wig out and drive hundreds of miles in an adult diaper to confront a romantic rival, could any of us?’ Just remember, no matter what kind of bad day you’re having, at least you’re not Julie Chen, asking some bleached blonde pop psychologist a question like that on national television.”
Bloggers grumbled that the sheer amount of coverage made it seem like the astronaut love triangle was the most important story of the week. “In the scheme of things, this is a rather petty event,” adds blogger Dick Mac (alive!). “When compared, however, to what is going on in the world, this is pretty small potatoes.”
Still others criticized the media at large for the way the story was covered. “I’m sick of the media trying to paint some picture about someone in a negative or positive matter that has no relevance to the situation,” laments Double Kick.
Christina Hernandez is a CJR intern.
“Time to come back to earth on this astronaut story,” advises Michigan-based WoodTV.com blogger Brian Sterling, who asks, “Why do we feel compelled to identify Nowak as a ‘female astronaut’ and not just an ‘astronaut.’ If she were a man, would we ever say ‘male astronaut?’ I doubt it. Treating this story as a joke more than the serious crime it is makes for a slippery slope. From all accounts, this was a stalking situation that could have easily turned deadly.”