She was born May 10, 1963, in Washington, D.C. She received a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985; a master of science degree in aeronautical engineering and a degree of aeronautical and astronautical engineer from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, both in 1992. Nowak logged over 1,500 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft. Nowak flew as a mission specialist on Discovery in 2006 and has logged almost 13 days in space.