Damaging Report Released on NASA A report released today shows that some astronauts drink heavily before space flights and have, on a couple of occasions, flown drunk. This is just the latest embarrassing news for NASA. Earlier this year, an astronaut was charged with attempted kidnapping and attempted battery. And yesterday NASA reported that a subcontractor had sabotaged a computer.
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Damaging Report Released on NASA

Hear reporter NPR's Alex Cohen and Pat Duggins of member station WMFE

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Space news from NASA, and it's not good. An independent review panel today reported that the space agency allowed two astronauts to fly while drunk.

COHEN: That information came out of an investigation into astronauts health issues - an investigation that was launched, thanks to Lisa Nowak. Remember her? She's the astronaut in that love triangle charged with attempted kidnapping and battery. Oh yeah, and then came the news that a space program worker allegedly snipped wires on a computer headed to the International Space Station. Yikes. Here to talk about it all is Pat Duggins. He covers NASA for NPR and for member station WMFE in Orlando. Welcome back to DAY TO DAY, Pat.

PAT DUGGINS: Thank you, Alex.

COHEN: Let's start off with the drinking first. Where exactly do these reports come from? And how solid are they?

DUGGINS: Well, it certainly gives a new meaning to the term blastoff. But anyway, it started off with an independent NASA committee who basically said that, as you mentioned, on at least two occasions astronauts apparently had a little bit too much bottle before they hit the throttle. And the concern is - all right, number one, were these astronauts going up on the space shuttle or were the astronauts going up on a Russian Soyuz? They do both these days.

COHEN: Wait, wait. They're worried about which ship they were on? I'd be a little bit more worried about the fact that these guys were soused as they were heading off into space, operating heavy machinery. That would be my concern.

DUGGINS: Well, I would tend to agree with you on that except that, you know, if you're on the Soyuz, if you land, basically, you're just kind of like, you know, plop on the steps of Kazakhstan and you're done. If you're in the shuttle, you have to dead stick it in with no engine power. So if your commander or your pilot are a little bit on the tipsy side, that would tend to concern me if I was one of the people who was flying with them.

COHEN: Well, Pat, what kind of cautionary measures are there to prevent something like this? I mean, I'm assuming there's not little space cops that are going to pull astronauts over and give them the breathalyzer.

DUGGINS: They have an informal rule that basically says you don't have a toot 12 hours before you lift off. You stay nice and sober and then you go. And the allegations that were brought out by the magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology was that just prior to lift off, apparently a couple of these astronauts had a bender. Now they're just trying to figure out, number one, is it an ongoing problem, do we have lots of alcohol abuse going on at the space agency. And then you take that along with Lisa Nowak and the sabotage and it's turning into soap opera.

COHEN: It sounds like a mess. What about the sabotage claim? What exactly do we know about that?

DUGGINS: It's a computer box that - it's a yellow box that goes up on the International Space Station. It supposed to be installed on the Destiny laboratory. And what it does is, if you've seen the space station operation, the big solar panels can actually pivot on the outside of the station so they can track the sun and get the most out of the solar energy to power the space station.

Now, this box basically keeps track of the motion of the solar panels. It was scheduled to be put inside space shuttle Endeavor and flown, and then a NASA subcontractor basically said, whoa, we seem to have three wires snipped here and it seemed to have been done deliberately. So now NASA's going back. They found the box. Indeed, the wires had been cut, according to the agency. And now they're going to make repairs, put it back on the shuttle, and there should be no delay for lift off.

COHEN: Any ideas why? Is there another NASA love triangle in the works here maybe?

DUGGINS: That would not surprise me, to be perfectly honest with you. With everything else going on here, it's kind of like, you know, been there, done that, bought a T-shirt. With NASA, with everything going on right now, nothing would really just blow me out of water.

COHEN: Thank you so much. Pat Duggins covers NASA from member station WMFE in Orlando. He also has a book coming out this fall. It's called "The Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program." Thanks so much.

DUGGINS: Thank you.

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