The Real Astronaut Behind Natalie Portman’s ‘Lucy In The Sky’ Character Avoids The Spotlight

by Lia Beck
Matt Stroshane/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In 2007, a shocking story hit the news and late night talk show monologues alike, and, eventually, that story formed the basis of a new movie. Out Oct. 4, Lucy in the Sky is loosely based on astronaut Lisa Nowak, who is known not for her mission to space, but for driving from Houston to Orlando to confront the woman dating the man with whom she had once had an affair. (And she might have done this all while wearing adult diapers, but that particular, headline-grabbing topic was disputed by Nowak's lawyer.)

With Natalie Portman playing a character inspired by the former astronaut, the once ubiquitous news item is back in the spotlight. So where is Nowak? Some people in her position might have written a tell-all or done a true crime special. But Nowak went far in the other direction.

Nowak was a U.S. Navy Captain who began her detail with NASA in 1996. Ten years later, in 2006, she flew to the International Space Station on what would be her only mission.

Nowak had an affair with a fellow astronaut (but not one who was on her mission), Bill Oefelein, and in February 2007, she was arrested after confronting his new girlfriend, Colleen Shipman, at the Orlando International Airport. Nowak drove the nearly 1,000 miles from Houston to Orlando, and had a BB gun, a knife, and a mallet with her, amongst other items, as reported by ABC News. She approached Shipman at her car and sprayed pepper spray through the window, but Shipman was able to flee. Shipman later said that she believed Nowak wanted to kill her.

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Nowak was arrested and charged with two felonies — attempted kidnapping and burglary — and misdemeanor battery. She was also charged with attempted murder, but that charge was dropped by prosecutors not long after her arrest, according to the Houston Chronicle. Nowak pleaded guilty to felony burglary and misdemeanor battery in 2009, and her plea deal meant she was sentenced to two days in jail (which was waved due to time already served), a year of probation, and 50 hours of community service.

Nowak's detail with NASA was terminated a month after her arrest. A statement on NASA's site reads, "NASA requested an end to the detail because the agency lacks the administrative means to deal appropriately with the criminal charges pending against Nowak. Because Nowak is a naval officer on assignment to NASA, rather than a NASA civil servant, she is not subject to administrative action by NASA."

Then, in 2011, the U.S. Navy gave Nowak an "other than honorable" discharge and she was demoted from a captain to a commander, as reported by NBC News. Following her sentencing, Nowak had still be working at the Chief of Naval Air Training station in Corpus Christi, Texas, while a decision was made about her by the Navy.

The latest update on Nowak came via a People article from 2017. The magazine reported that Nowak was living in "a modest home in Texas" and working in the private sector. It was also reported that she doesn't do interviews and was trying to put her past behind her. In 2016, her lawyer told the publication, "She’s doing well." Today, Nowak is 56. She has three children: a 27-year-old son and 18-year-old twin daughters.

As for Oefelein and Shipman, they got married in 2010, moved to Alaska, and had a child. Like Nowak, they were both previously in the military, but as of 2017, ran a website called Adventurewrite.com that hosted a writing competition for kids. Additionally, Shipman is a novelist. "A lot of people ask, 'Did you forgive Lisa Nowak for what she did?'' Shipman said to People in 2016. "She committed a crime, she was convicted, she finished her sentence. I’m not sure there’s anything really for me to forgive."