Reports of Sabotage, Alcohol Abuse Hit NASA

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On at least two occasions, NASA astronauts were permitted to fly after drinking heavily, according to a report released Friday by an independent panel.

The report gave no names and did not say when the drinking occurred, how many astronauts were involved, or whether they were flying on the space shuttle, the Russian Soyuz spaceship, or aboard NASA's training airplanes.

"Interviews with both flight surgeons and astronauts identified some episodes of heavy use of alcohol by astronauts in the immediate preflight period, which has led to flight safety concerns," according to the report. "Alcohol is freely used in crew quarters."

NASA officials let the astronauts fly, even after flight surgeons and fellow astronauts said they were concerned that flight safety might be jeopardized. The report is the work of a panel created by NASA after the arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak in February on charges that she tried to kidnap her rival in a love triangle.

The committee's report includes new interim rules that call for not imbibing alcohol in the 12 hours before launch.

The space agency is also investigating the sabotage of a computer scheduled for delivery to the International Space Station during a space shuttle mission next month. NASA Operations Chief Bill Gerstenmaier said Thursday that a worker at a subcontractor deliberately cut wires on a computer. Officials have not said where the sabotage happened.

"We ... inspected the flight unit and discovered some wires were cut on the inside of that unit," Gerstenmaier said. "It's currently being investigated by the inspector-general's office."

"Even before we got to the tests down here, the contractor disclosed it to us," he added.

The unidentified employee, who works for a NASA subcontractor, also allegedly damaged a similar computer that will stay here on Earth.

Gerstenmaier said the problem did not cause a safety issue and that repairs would be made before Endeavour's launch Aug. 7.

Aviation Week first reported that a special panel studying astronaut health found that on two occasions, astronauts were allowed to fly even though flight surgeons and other astronauts warned that they were drunk and posed a safety risk.

The Aviation Week & Space Technology Web site said its information came from a special panel studying astronaut health.

The report did not say when the incidents occurred, or whether the intoxication involved crew members who have a role in flying the shuttle.

The independent panel also found "heavy use of alcohol" before launch — within the standard 12-hour "bottle-to-throttle" rule, the magazine reported.

The report is another jolt for an operation that has had a rocky year, beginning with Nowak's February arrest.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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