Panels: NASA astronauts found drunk before flight

By Xinhua

Washington : NASA astronauts were found drunk before they conduct space flights, according to reports released Friday by two independent investigating panels here at NASA headquarters.

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"Alcohol is freely used in crew quarters. Two specific instances were described where astronauts had been so intoxicated prior to flight that flight surgeons and/or fellow astronauts raised concerns to local on-scene leadership regarding flight safety," said the external panel, which was created by NASA in the wake of the arrest of former astronaut Lisa Nowak in February on charges she tried to kidnap her rival in a love triangle.

However, the individuals were still permitted to fly, according to the panel experts after interviews with both flight surgeons and astronauts. The report said NASA's medical certification of astronauts for flight duty is not structured to detect such episodes, nor is any medical surveillance program by itself likely to detect them or change the pattern of alcohol use.

The panel recommends that NASA should ensure that specific policies, procedures, educational efforts, and disciplinary actions are in place to foster a culture that holds individuals and supervisors accountable for safe and responsible use of alcohol.

Another internal panel formed by NASA's Johnson Space Center focuses on the behavioral health of astronauts. They reviewed the existing psychological screening for admittance into the astronauts corps and the ongoing psychological assessments during an astronaut's career at NASA.

This panel recommends that NASA should adopt a formal code of conduct for the astronaut corps, provide regular training to flight surgeons regarding behavioral health assessment, and institute behavioral health assessments in conjunction with annual astronaut flight physicals.

"NASA acknowledge the important work done (by the two panels)," Shana Dale, NASA Deputy Administrator said at the news conference." We are going to implement the recommendations to improve the extensive health care programs for our astronauts."

"A more extensive behavioral health assessment will be added to annual flight physical examinations for all astronauts," said Dale." And, we are committed to improving the quality and usefulness of our psychological testing and assessment during the astronaut selection."

"We take the recommendation of developing an astronaut code of conduct very seriously," added Dale. She said that NASA will act immediately on the more troubling aspects of the reports, especially with respect to alcohol use.

The report does not provide specific information about alcohol-related incidents and the panel has left it to NASA to determine the scope of these alleged incidents.