Astronauts Drank Before Launch

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

At least twice, astronauts were allowed to fly after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so drunk they posed a flight-safety risk, an Aviation Week reported July 26, 2007, citing a special panel studying astronaut health.

The independent panel also found "heavy use of alcohol" before launch that was within the standard 12-hour "bottle-to-throttle" rule, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology, which reported the finding on its website.

A NASA official confirmed that the health report contains claims of alcohol use by astronauts before launch, but said the information is based on anonymous interviews and is unsubstantiated.

The official didn't want to be named because NASA plans a news conference Friday to discuss the panel's findings.

The panel was created following the arrest in February of former space shuttle flier Lisa Nowak, who was implicated in a love triangle.

NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said Thursday it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the matter before the report is released on Friday.

Asked if he had ever personally had to deal with a safety issue involving an inebriated astronaut in space, Gerstenmaier replied: "The obvious answer is no. I've never had any instances of that.

"There's not been a disciplinary action or anything I've been involved with regarding this type of activity," he said.

In Washington, the chairman of the House Science and Technology committee said he hadn't seen the report, "but if the reports of drunken astronauts being allowed to fly prove to be true, I think the agency will have a lot of explaining to do."

"That's not the 'right stuff' as far as I'm concerned," said Bart Gordon, D-Tenn.

The Aviation Week report doesn't make clear when the alleged incidents occurred, nor does it say whether the intoxication involved crewmembers who have no role in flying the shuttle or whether it was the pilot and commander.

NASA plans to release findings of a pair of reviews - one by the outside committee and the other by an internal panel - into astronauts' health Friday.

The independent panel's NASA consultant and its eight members, which include Air Force experts in aerospace medicine and clinical psychiatry, did not immediately return phone messages or e-mails from the Associated Press Thursday afternoon.

Aviation Week said the report citing drunkenness does not deal directly with Nowak or mention any other astronaut by name.
Nowak is accused of attacking the girlfriend of a fellow astronaut - her romantic rival - with pepper spray in a parking lot at Orlando International Airport.

Fired by NASA in March, she has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault.

To read the Aviation Week report, click here.


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