Drunk astronauts? What?

Contributed by
Jul 26, 2007
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This is astonishing.

According to an article in Aviation Week, on at least two occasions astronauts who were intoxicated -- drunk -- were allowed to fly

on the Space Shuttle [ As pointed out in the comments below, the AW article never specifically says they flew on the Shuttle, just that they flew. Many astronauts train in planes, for example, so I jumped to a conclusion myself! I feel it's somewhat mitigated by knowing that lots of other folks did too. However the article does go on to say that some astronauts were intoxicated within 12 hours of launch, which is against the rules.]

A panel reviewing astronaut health issues in the wake of the Lisa Nowak arrest has found that on at least two occasions astronauts were allowed to fly after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so intoxicated that they posed a flight-safety risk.

The panel, also reported "heavy use of alcohol" by astronauts before launch, within the standard 12-hour "bottle to throttle" rule applied to NASA flight crew members.

I am at a loss for words. I mean, seriously. I know a few astronauts, and I would swear up and down that the last thing they would ever do is drink before a flight. It's hard to believe anything like this could happen, but the panel -- composed of "military and civilian government physicians, psychologists, lawyers, safety experts and astronauts under the chairmanship of U.S. Air Force Col. Richard Bachmann, dean of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine" -- found otherwise.

All I have to go on here is this article in Aviation Week. To be fair, AW generally gets good inside info, though they have been known to stumble here and again. Given the nature of this story, and only having one source, I wasn't sure whether to publicize it or not. So I want to be clear that it is way too early to speculate here about fault, veracity, or anything else. But this is really, really important news, and needs to be aired out. It may be a few weeks before we hear more, however.

And please folks: try to keep the conclusion-jumping to a minimum in the comments.

Update: FWIW, USA Today is also reporting on this, but they only have the AW article as a source as well. They do say that the report from the panel will be released Friday at noon. Interestingly, NASA is holding a press conference at noon (Eastern) Friday about astronaut health issues.

Update 2: The Huffington Post has some more info.