Astronaut caught in strange love triangle to leave NASA

Bill Oefelein to be reassigned by Navy

Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. - NASA is cutting ties with former Alaskan Bill Oefelein, the astronaut at the center of a love triangle that turned violent earlier this year.

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The space agency announced Friday that Oefelein, an experienced test pilot and fighter pilot for the Navy, will be sent back to the military effective June 1.

Oefelein has acknowledged being romantically involved with former astronaut Lisa Nowak, who is facing felony charges of attacking Oefelein's girlfriend in Orlando in February. Nowak, a Navy captain, already has been released from the astronaut corps and is working at a base in Texas.

A NASA spokesman would not discuss the end of Oefelein's space career, saying only that it is time for him to return to the Navy.

"The Navy and NASA mutually agreed to end his detail" with NASA, said agency spokesman Jim Rostohar at Johnson Space Center in Houston. "NASA determined his detail was no longer necessary."

Oefelein, 42, flew on shuttle Discovery in December and has been working at various technical assignments at JSC in recent months, Rostohar said.

His private life was dragged into public view after Nowak was accused of stalking and pepper-spraying U.S. Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman on Feb. 5 in a parking lot at Orlando International Airport. Shipman is stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County, Fla.

According to investigators, Oefelein had ended a romantic relationship with Nowak, who claims that she only was trying to talk with Shipman.

Nowak, whose trial is set for September, faces a possible life sentence on charges of attempted kidnapping and burglary with an assault. Military experts say that Nowak and Oefelein also could be court-martialed for "conduct unbecoming an officer."

Nowak is separated, and Oefelein is divorced.

A Navy spokesman could not say Friday where Oefelein would be reporting to duty next month. Lt. Commander Doug Gabos said the details still are being worked out. He would not comment on any disciplinary action that Oefelein might face.

"His case will be reviewed by his new commander but we're not going to speculate on any possible outcome of his case," Gabos said.

A native of Alaska, Oefelein earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University. He joined the Navy and earned his wings as a naval aviator in 1990. His early assignments included overseas deployments to the Persian Gulf as a fighter pilot.

After attending TOPGUN, the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, Oefelein graduated in 1995 from the Navy's test-pilot school at Patuxent River, Md., where he later taught.

In 1998, he was working as a strike-operations officer for a carrier wing in Virginia when he got the call telling him he had been selected to join NASA's astronaut corps.

"A lot of folks who do that test-pilot work also went on to fly space shuttles," Oefelein said in an interview before his space voyage. "... at that point, it just seemed natural for me to go to the next phase and try to fly space shuttles."

During his 12-day mission in space, Oefelein and six crewmates helped rewire the electrical system aboard the international space station.

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