Who's Lisa Nowak, The Inspiration Behind The Twisted Astronaut Love Triangle In 'Lucy In The Sky'?

"Lucy in the Sky" is loosely based on Lisa Nowak's alleged attempt to kidnap Colleen Shipman, who was dating William Oefelein, another NASA astronaut who Nowak had an affair with.

By Gina Tron
Digital Original
Love Triangles That Turned Violent

“Lucy in the Sky,” a movie that will play in select theaters this weekend, may seem like an out-of-this-world story, but the film is actually based on a bizarre true tale that captivated tabloids. The movie loosely draws inspiration from the notorious 2006 arrest of Lisa Nowak, a married astronaut who drove across the country to allegedly try to kidnap the girlfriend of another astronaut who Nowak had an affair with.

The movie, starring Natalie Portman as a character based on Nowak, will play in major cities like New York and Los Angeles on Friday, October 4, and will screen nationwide by Oct. 25. The film follows the downfall of “Lucy Cola, a strong woman whose determination and drive as an astronaut take her to space, where she’s deeply moved by the transcendent experience of seeing her life from afar,” according to Fox Searchlight’s description, which accompanies the movie trailer.

“Back home as Lucy’s world suddenly feels too small, her connection with reality slowly unravels,” it continues. 

Lisa Nomwak Lucy In The Sky G

While it’s only loosely based on the events surrounding Nowak’s arrest, according to The Verge, there are many strong parallels. The trailer shows Cola feeling isolated after going out in space but finds herself being pulled to another astronaut, played by John Hamm, whom she sleeps with. It also hints that she will soon go off the deep end, through scenes of her ripping apart a wall and a vivid scene of her wearing a blonde wig in the rain.

Who exactly is Nowak and what did she do in 2006 to yield such infamy?

Lisa Nowak's Early Life

Nowak was born in Washington D.C. in 1963 and grew up to be a high achiever. She received a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering and a degree of aeronautical and astronautical engineer in 1992, according to NASA. Before joining NASA, she served in the Navy, where she received various metals and service awards.

“Lisa enjoys bicycling, running, skeet, sailing, gourmet cooking, rubber stamps, crossword puzzles and piano,” her 2005 NASA bio stated.

She was selected by NASA in April 1996 and went up into space to work on the International Space Station in 2006 as an engineer. She logged over a dozen days out in space and was actually awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal at Johnson Space Center in 2007.

In 2007, she also split from her husband, NASA contractor Richard T. Nowak, whom she had three children with. 

The Incident With Colleen Shipman

Nowak blasted from space to the headlines (and to the butt of jokes) after she was arrested in 2007 for allegedly trying to kidnap another astronaut’s girlfriend. Nowak had been having an affair with William Oefelein, another NASA astronaut at the time, whom then-Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman was dating. 

While the affair between Nowak and Oefelein cooled off, Nowak, then 43, clearly got fired up when she found out about Shipman, then 30. In fact, Nowak drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida, — that’s about 900 miles— to confront her former lover’s girlfriend in an airport’s long-term parking garage.

Nowak brought with her a steel mallet, a 4-inch folding knife, a BB gun, garbage bags, latex gloves, pepper spray and a black wig, according to a 2007 Los Angeles Times report

She was also reportedly wearing an adult diaper, the sordid detail that turned her into a punchline.

The diaper detail is not included in “Lucy in the Sky," perhaps because her lawyer argued in court that the diaper detail just wasn’t true. Instead, he claimed the diapers had been in the car since 2005, when the Nowak family packed up precautionary items for a hurricane evacuation, according to the New York Post.

Diane Fanning, author of a 2007 book about Nowak called “Out There,” told The Post that if Nowak was wearing a diaper that “was the most normal part of that whole expedition. That’s something she was used to. That was something all astronauts did — it wasn’t peculiar. When you do takeoff, and you have all that pressure pressing against your body, it presses against your bladder, too — and boom, everything goes out. You’re gonna wet your pants, so it’s good to have a diaper on.”

During the notorious confrontation with Shipman, Nowak sprayed pepper spray into an open car window that Shipman was in after getting her attention, but Shipman was able to drive away and call the cops, telling them at the time Nowak was an acquaintance of her boyfriend's who had been stalking her for two months.

While Nowak was originally charged with kidnapping and attempted murder, she later pleaded guilty to burglary and misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to two days in jail. She was given credit for time already served.

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