I'm fine, I just had a couple of beers
Bloomberg (financial/news wire USA)
Friday 27 July 2007
to Fly, Report Says
by Demian McLean
July 27 (Bloomberg) -- NASA astronauts showed up drunk before launch and were cleared to fly on two missions, even after crew members alerted superiors, a panel commissioned by the U.S. space agency said.
"We have no way of knowing if these are the only two incidents that have ever occurred in the history of the astronaut corps, or if they are the tip of a very large iceberg," said Richard Bachmann, an Air Force colonel and the panel's chairman.
No dates were given for the incidents. Some fliers have also made "heavy use of alcohol" within a half-day before liftoff, violating NASA's 12-hour "bottle to throttle" buffer, according to the report, released today at NASA headquarters in Washington.
Alcohol was "freely used" in crew quarters, the report said, citing interviews with flight surgeons and astronauts. The accounts cover the shuttle missions and related flight training, Bachmann said. NASA said it's investigating the alleged incidents.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration asked psychiatrists and doctors to study the health of fliers in February, when astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested on attempted kidnapping charges. Prosecutors say Nowak, wearing a disguise, attacked a rival over a space shuttle pilot's affections.
Today's report doesn't name astronauts or flights. Had a shuttle pilot been drunk, the results could have been disastrous in the case of an aborted liftoff, said "Rocket Boys" author and former NASA astronaut trainer Homer Hickam.
"The shuttle has to glide back to the launch site, which would take more skill than any pilot in the history of mankind," Hickam said. "He would need all his faculties about him."
Deputy NASA Administrator Shana Dale said it's "premature" to say what punishment an astronaut would face for showing up drunk.
"What I can tell you is that alcohol use in regards to spacecraft or aircraft is not going to be tolerated by this agency," Dale said at NASA headquarters.
The report spurred criticism from the U.S. House panel overseeing NASA.
"Drinking and driving is never a good idea, least of all when the vehicle involved is a multibillion-dollar space shuttle," Representative Bart Gordon, Colorado Democrat and Science and Technology Committee chairman, said in a statement. "Something clearly seems to be broken in NASA's system of astronaut oversight."
Bachmann's panel urged the agency to regularly submit anonymous surveys to astronauts and the flight surgeons who clear them, a step that might ease fear of reprisals from fellow fliers. Dale concurred with the suggestion.
To contact the reporter on this story: Demian McLean in Washington at email@example.com . Last Updated: July 27, 2007 16:43 EDT
Labels: drunk Shuttle astronauts