Nowak's dismissal did not reflect the space agency's belief in her guilt or innocence, NASA officials said. The agency said it lacked an administrative system to handle the allegations because Nowak is a naval officer on assignment to NASA, rather than a NASA civil servant.
If Nowak were a civil servant, NASA would have the choice of placing her on administrative leave, leave without pay or indefinite suspension until the charges are resolved, said NASA spokesman James Hartsfield in Houston. But because she is an officer, those options are not available.
Nowak, a Navy captain, instead will return to the military.
She will be assigned to the staff at the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, Texas, starting in two weeks, Navy Cmdr. Lydia Robertson said. Robertson said she didn't know what specific job Nowak would be doing.
Nowak is the first astronaut fired, and also the first one charged with a felony.
Here is the bit that the press is calling a sticky wicket:
The space shuttle pilot who was the object of Nowak's affections, Navy Cmdr. Bill Oefelein, remains on active duty while working for NASA. Robertson said she could not speculate whether his status is under review.
To the side of that is the fact that Oefelein and Shipman (the "romantic rival" who Nowak allegedly attempted to kidnap) used NASA and shuttle ressources to maintain a steamy email correspondence while Oefelein was in space on a shuttle mission.
However, NASA has not taken any action or fired Oefelein. Adultery, though embarassing to the space agency, is not an offense that warrants firing. Both Shipman and Oefelein are answereable, ultimately, to the military, rather than NASA. The military might take action since it could be construed as conduct unbecoming of an officer.
The media is asking whether this is a double standard. I think that's a good question.
Oefelein and Shipman's naughty water cooler talk might never have been noticed or commented upon, if not for Nowak.
However, messages to and from the shuttle...what's the cost? What's the possible interference? I'll check into that, but I don't know the answer just now.
Nevertheless, racy emails in my mind are not in the same league as an alleged plot to kidnap and potentially harm. Plus, they aren't against the law, a felony no less.
So, I don't think there's a double-standard. Nowak was fired for her actions, not for the affair. The firing did come prior to a verdict (which troubles me) but NASA explained they do not have the capacity to allow her---as someone who isn't one of their civil servants---appropriate leave under the circumstances.
I have no idea what Oefelein deserves in a moral court. But there doesn't appear to be a double standard.
Do you agree or disagree?
What do you think? Should NASA and the military take action against Shipman and Oefelein?
Do you think women often bear the brunt of punitive action in the workplace in the case of sexual harassment, affairs, etc?
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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