NEW YORK —
A survey of NASA astronauts and flight surgeons
turned up no evidence that any astronauts
were drunk on launch day. The survey also
revealed a desire for more transparency in how crews are selected for spaceflight.
The anonymous survey, released Jan. 23
, did find one report of “perceived impairment” in an astronaut in the days before liftoff, which later was traced to an interaction between prescription medication and alcohol, said former shuttle astronaut Ellen Ochoa,
deputy director of NASA’s
Johnson Space Center in Houston.
ultimately was cleared for flight and launched into space, agency health officials added.
NASA health officials said
they did not know if the incident was one of two anecdotal accounts claiming that a U.S. astronaut
was drunk just hours before launch. The claims, one related to a shuttle flight and the other to a Russian Soyuz mission, were included in an independent panel review of astronaut health released last year. “We really never understood from the beginning exactly what might have led to the comment in the health care report,” Ochoa said Jan. 23.
“We have tried to run it to ground. We haven’t uncovered anything. I don’t know of any issues associated with alcohol before flight.”
NASA regulations prohibit the use of alcohol within 12 hours of launch time. The policy, initially an unofficial guideline adapted from its T-38 jet flight rules, was
adopted officially for human spaceflight last year. The agency’s astronaut corps
also is putting the finishing touches on its own code of conduct manual, Ochoa said.
NASA commissioned the anonymous survey in the wake of a report last July by an independent astronaut health review, led by U.S. Air Force Col. Richard Bachmann,
which itself was spurred by the arrest February 2007 of the now former astronaut
Lisa Nowak. Nowak was charged with the attempted kidnapping, and burglary with assault, of a romantic rival for a fellow astronaut’s affections. She has pleaded not guilty.
Bachmann’s review panel reported some accounts of astronauts and flight surgeons who felt their concerns over the anecdotal drinking claims were disregarded by their managers.
But in the new survey, those polled indicated that astronauts and flight surgeons had a healthy relationship, and were not afraid
to bring up safety concerns with their superiors. The survey polled all 31 of NASA’s current flight surgeons and 87 of the 98 active astronauts between August and December 2007
“The response rate of the survey was 91 percent, a rate well above what you would normally expect in a survey,” Ochoa said. “That indicates the seriousness with which astronauts and flight surgeons approached this survey.”
One recurring theme among astronauts who took the survey was the desire for a better understanding of how feedback about an astronaut’s
technical skills or performance
affects career decisions and crew assignments, space agency officials said.
“We have taken their opinions and recommendations and are formulating the way forward on this issue,” Ochoa said.
Meanwhile, members of Congress said NASA still must remain vigilant to address the concerns raised by Bachmann’s independent panel, and any new items stemming from the recent survey.
“While the anonymous survey released today provides some useful data, NASA’s action plan for addressing the problems identified last year is still unavailable,”
Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the House Science and Technology space and aeronautics subcommittee, said in a statement. “NASA needs to provide that plan expeditiously if Congress is to be confident that NASA is serious about dealing with concerns raised by Col. Bachmann and others, and I intend to press NASA to do so.”