Politics & Policy

There’s a Crazy Astronaut in All of Us

We can learn something about life from the Lisa Nowak story.

Poor Robochick! There is probably some high moral reason that I shouldn’t feel sorry for astronaut Lisa Nowak, who is now charged with attempted murder and kidnapping, but I just can’t help it.

And lots of people I know are also riveted by this tale, straight out of Desperate Housewives, filled with so many kooky soap-opera touches. The wig. The pepper spray. The diaper. And maybe, worst of all, the object of her affections, a “Top Gun” pilot with the unfortunate nickname of “Billy-O.”

Sure, I know that in the great scheme of things, “Lust in Space,” as the New York Post’s headline shrieked, is not very important–but it is oh-so-interesting. The shrewd media know this, albeit there will still be some pious whining about what a fuss is being made.

For example, on Katie Couric’s “Couric & Co” blog, White House correspondent Mark Knoller moaned: “Covering the White House, I thought I was safe from the sad story of  astronaut Lisa Nowak. But I was wrong.” Oh, dear! He goes on to yelp, “We’re a nation stuck in a war nobody bargained for. We’ve got a National Debt of nearly $8.7 trillion dollars. Genocide is still underway in Darfur. We’re struggling to address so many problems affecting so many millions. And the pathetic case of Lisa Nowak is what we’re all talking and joking about. I get it. But I don’t like it.”

Hasn’t Mark figured out that Katie is sitting in the anchor seat over there at CBS and making $15 million a year primarily because she was so good at stories just like this? No doubt she is working hard for a big “get” interview with, if not “astro-nut” Lisa, her yet-to-be-heard-from husband or the alleged victim, Billy-O’s g.f. Captain Colleen Shipman.

By the way, Mediabistro’ s Galley Cat reports that a book deal about the case has already been signed–it took all of 48 hours–and no doubt a story “ripped from the headlines” will be part of the plot of an upcoming CSI or Law and Order or, sweet irony, Desperate Housewives.

In many ways, “Lisa’s Losing It” is already being played as another cautionary tale of a working mom crumpling under the stress of coping with a family–she has a teenage son and five-year-old twin daughters–and a too-demanding job. In a recent “Right Stuff” interview for Ladies’ Home Journal, Lisa, who describes herself as “competitive, determined, ambitious,” talks about trying six times to get into test pilot school. When she finally got in, she had a nine-month-old baby, which “was definitely a challenge.” A friend said about her, “[Lisa] was the epitome of managing a very hectic career, making sacrifices to accommodate her family. All these stresses can conspire to overwhelm…”

Yet her totally aberrant actions seems to me more related to the great letdown that competitive, determined, ambitious people, both men and women, can sometimes experience in the middle of their lives, especially after achieving what they always thought they wanted . Remember St. Teresa’s wise admonition that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered.

Lisa finally went up in space last summer after waiting almost ten years for the chance. USA Today reported that she was sick her first few days in space, and that during the mission she was confused by the corridors of the International Space Station where the shuttle spent some time. She also said in interviews she found her job of operating the shuttle and the station’s robotic arm more difficult than in ground training. Although NASA said her performance had been “excellent,” it was likely she would never go up again. After waiting and working all those years, could there be a greater downer?

How does the almost inevitable depression after such an experience affect someone? If you no longer want what you have always wanted, what crazy thing might you think you want instead?

Of course that doesn’t fully explain or condone Lisa’s loony actions. After all, there was a four-inch knife and a steel mallet in the goody bag she was carrying to help facilitate a heart-to-heart talk with her supposed love rival. She will be in serious trouble long after her story fades from the headlines.

Even now, I know Lisa’s travails can be dismissed as part of a “tawdry love triangle,” of little importance, and only of interest to the women readers of the tabs, the women viewers of TV series and late-night comedians. But I think it has so many of us talking because it is really such a sad, and such a human, story.

Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.

Myrna BlythMyrna Blyth is senior vice president and editorial director of AARP Media. She is the former editor-in-chief and publishing director of Ladies’ Home Journal. She was the founding editor and ...


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