Houston's Darkest Hours

Tainted Love: The Astronaut Love Triangle That Led to Adult Diapers and Battery

When astronaut Bill Oefelein dumped fellow astronaut Lisa Nowak for someone else, Nowak didn't exactly take it well.

By Gwendolyn Knapp November 26, 2018 Published in the December 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

When Astronaut Bill Oefelein (left) dumped fellow astronaut Lisa Nowak (center) for Colleen Shipman (right), Nowak didn't exactly take it well.

It’s not the fact that Lisa Nowak was the first astronaut ever to be arrested that truly gripped the nation in 2007. It was the diapers.

The shy 43-year-old mother of three from League City, who’d operated the robotic arm on the International Space Station and was employed at Johnson Space Center, wore maximum-absorption garments—government-issued astronaut diapers—during her 950-mile drive from Houston to Orlando to confront her former lover’s girlfriend, Colleen Shipman, a U.S. Air Force engineer.

Nowak later told authorities she used two diapers to avoid making pit stops before arriving at her destination around midnight on February 5, 2007, disguised in a black wig and hat. She’d brought a steel mallet, a buck knife, a BB gun with ammo, latex gloves, four feet of rubber tubing, duct tape, garbage bags, a floppy disc containing female nudes and bondage instructions, a map of Shipman’s Cape Canaveral neighborhood, and the single item she managed to use on her victim—pepper spray.

She told authorities she just wanted to talk to Shipman.

Astronaut Bill Oefelein, Nowak’s lover of three years, had ended things with her a few weeks prior. Using the key still in her possession, she’d then broken into his Houston apartment and discovered the identity of her rival: the blond, lanky Shipman, who was 10 years her junior.

In possession of Shipman’s travel plans, Nowak caught up with her at Orlando International Airport, following her onto a bus to a nearby parking lot and, finally, to her car, where she reached inside the window and blasted her victim with pepper spray.

Nowak, who was later discharged from NASA and the Navy, pleaded guilty to felony burglary of a car and misdemeanor battery, though she’d initially been charged with attempted kidnapping and burglary.

“I do still have anxiety,” Shipman, a YA novelist living in Alaska with her now-husband Oefelein, told Inside Edition in 2017. “I’m always looking over my shoulder.”

Nowak’s whereabouts are unknown, but one thing is certain: Her name is still the first thing to pop up when you Google “astronaut diapers.”

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