It might have been a sign from the stars. Lakeland journalist Kimberly C. Moore, who just published a book about a shuttle astronaut’s criminal case, said she has been interested in space flight since childhood.
Watching an Apollo launch at the age of 2½ from a neighbor’s house in Ocala, she put her hand on the TV and told her dad she wanted to be “with them.”
Another memory: As a teen driving to Kathleen High School, she couldn’t resist the urge to pull over and look up at the rocket soaring through the clouds.
It was a 2007 assignment while working as a reporter for “Florida Today” in Melbourne that led to her writing “Star Crossed: The Story of Lisa Nowak,” published last month by University Press of Florida.
“The main reason [I wrote the book] … I covered the criminal case, but from the moment I heard about it, I’m like, how can somebody so accomplished and brilliant basically lower themselves to our level, to a level of a mere mortal, and lose their mind over a man?” she says.
Moore says she wasn’t specifically assigned to the space beat, but she was at the Kennedy Space Center to cover “a bunch of shuttle flights, four [of those] at the press site.” She also spent time out on the beach or the river getting local interviews during launches.
In 2007 the newspaper’s assistant metro editor assigned Moore to a major story: the criminal case and love triangle entanglement of NASA shuttle astronaut Lisa Nowak.
The highly publicized case of the Discovery astronaut, arrested after stalking and attacking a romantic rival, began unfolding in the press in early February 2007. By the summer of that year, Moore’s episodic newspaper articles prompted a friend to ask, “Why don’t you write a book?”
That was the beginning of Moore’s 12-year project including coverage of Nowak’s case February 2007 through November 2010: the hearings, police reports, judicial rulings, criminal charges and the final U.S. Navy hearing.
Interviews with the key players at the time? Difficult to impossible, Moore says. “Lisa Nowak doesn’t ever want to be interviewed.” During the entire process Nowak had a crisis communication manager handling all press contact.
Once, after a hearing, Moore rode an elevator down with Nowak’s attorneys and was able to get a quote. On another occasion as Nowak and her attorney were coming down an escalator, Moore stood with other news reporters eager for a statement.
“Why can’t you people leave her alone?” the attorney asked. “We’re all just doing our job,” Moore recalls she stated calmly.
Moore writes that Nowak’s family also shunned publicity. “I went to her parents’ house and introduced myself.” On seeing her, Nowak’s mother said, “I’m sure you are. I’m not interested,” and closed the door.
As for interviewing the romantic rival and victim in the case, former Air Force officer Colleen Shipman, Moore once again took an attorney’s quote after riding an elevator down with them after a hearing. Unlike the others in her book, Moore has communicated with Shipman at times over the years via email.
When the scandal broke Moore was living in Palm Bay and working from the newspaper’s main office in Melbourne. In 2010 after the case concluded with Nowak’s military hearing, she moved to Gainesville, her initial rough draft chapters written. It was there that a friend suggested Moore meet her daughter-in-law, Amy Gorelick, who worked at University Press of Florida.
Moore gave what represented half of her book to Gorelick, who recommended changes. As Moore explains, “Then life got in the way.” Moore got married. Her mother became seriously ill and passed away. Another major life event occurred when Moore found her birth mother and arranged a reunion. Over the next few years, it was an on-again, off-again writing routine as she set it aside for months at a time.
In 2014 Moore says she recommitted to writing her book, and for a brief time, worked with a New York agent before they parted ways amicably. She contacted Gorelick again and resubmitted her work — now three-fourths complete — to University Press. It was accepted! University Press was enthusiastic but wanted to see more chapters about Nowak. Moore had eliminated what the publisher wanted so she put it back in.
“Star Crossed,” with 32 chapters, was published Sept. 1, after Moore added a final chapter. As storyteller, Moore contrasts Nowak’s pursuit of excellence, Naval Academy training, career as a Navy pilot and space achievements with the breakdown of her marriage, an affair and mental illness that led to her fall from space shuttle glory.
“Star Crossed” discusses NASA’s scant attention at the time to astronauts’ mental health and includes evaluations of Nowak’s mental state.
“I got hold of her (Nowak) psychiatric evaluations,” Moore says. “That added to my perspective. It’s an empathetic look at her situation.”
Moore, 53, born in St Petersburg and raised in Lakeland, attended Medulla Elementary, and Lakeland Highlands Middle School before graduating from Kathleen High School in 1985. Like any proper Red Devil, Moore says she’s grateful to her high school English teachers, “Sylvia Duncan, Linda Privett, Mildred Nailing, and Beth Johnson for believing in me and encouraging me.”
College included Polk Community College followed by Florida State University with a major in history. For the past 2 ½ years Moore has been a reporter with TheLedger covering education and general assignment stories.
Donna J. Renfroe is a freelance writer who has covered law enforcement, business, the arts, education and politics for radio and newspaper.