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NASA Jolted By Boozing Astronauts And Sabotage

Congress plans hearings on astronauts flying 'high'
Washington (AFP) July 27 - Revelations over boozing astronauts prompted Congress to call oversight hearings Friday, as a lawmaker warned drinking and driving was a bad idea ... especially on a space shuttle. The US House of Representatives Science and Technology committee called a first hearing for September, after the US space agency confirmed a report that astronauts had shown up to work drunk. "Drinking and driving is never a good idea -- least of all when the vehicle involved is a multi-billion dollar Space Shuttle or a high performance jet aircraft," said Democratic committee chairman Bart Gordon.

"But it's not just alcohol abuse; you only have to read the report to know that something clearly seems to be broken in NASA's system of astronaut oversight." House Space and Aeronautics subcommittee chairman Mark Udall warned that the report was a "wake-up" call. "We need to understand what happened and why, whether anyone is going to be held accountable, and what the agency is going to do to fix these apparently deep-seated problems," he said. "That's why we will hold a hearing on this matter is soon as the House reconvenes in September."

by Virginie Montet
Washington (AFP) Jul 27, 2007
The US space agency faced tough questions Friday, after confirming a report that astronauts had shown up for duty drunk and after workers found a sabotaged computer destined for an imminent mission. Already under pressure over a range of issues, NASA could face a full-blown crisis as US lawmakers focus on the reports of drunken astronauts, who in one case were preparing to fly a shuttle mission, a US Air Force physician said. The revelation was made during a news conference on a US space agency report on astronaut health that found that astronauts were allowed to fly while drunk on at least two occasions.

While the report does not mention during which missions the drinking occurred, Air Force physician Richard Bachmann, who authored the report, told reporters one incident involved preparations for a shuttle mission that was eventually delayed.

The astronauts then wanted to fly on a T-38 supersonic jet used by NASA, he said, without giving more detail.

The second case involved a Russian Soyuz mission bound for the International Space Station (ISS), colonel Bachmann said.

"One incident involved both the shuttle and a T-38 ... and one involved the International Space Station," he said.

NASA had earlier confirmed the report on alcohol use and flying while impaired, saying that "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."

"However the individuals were still permitted to fly," it said in a statement.

The report released by NASA found "heavy use of alcohol" inside the standard 12-hour "bottle to throttle" abstinence period for flight crew.

William Gerstenmaier, head of space operations at NASA, earlier declined to discuss the report but said he "never had any instances" involving safety risks because of drunken astronauts, The New York Times reported.

"There's not been a disciplinary action or anything I've been involved with regarding this type of activity," he said.

There was more bad news for the space agency on Thursday when NASA officials said workers found a computer due to be transported by shuttle Endeavour in an August mission to the ISS had been apparently sabotaged, with its wires cut.

"One of our subcontractors noticed that a network box for the shuttle had appeared to be tampered with," NASA spokeswoman Katherine Trinidad told AFP. "It is intentional damage to hardware."

She said workers who discovered the computer damage at the subcontractor's facility -- not at NASA's -- had notified the space agency "several days ago," adding: "There is an ongoing investigation."

She did not identify the subcontractors or offer more details.

"What we are trying to do now is repair that unit and try and fly it when possible," she said.

Endeavour and a crew of seven are due to launch on August 7 from NASA's base at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a mission to continue building the ISS, an orbiting space laboratory.

Safety is a major concern in shuttle missions after damage sustained by the Columbia craft on launch caused it to break up on re-entry in February 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board.

"If the reports of drunken astronauts being allowed to fly prove to be true, I think the agency will have a lot of explaining to do," said Bart Gordon, chairman of the House of Representatives' science and technology committee.

"That's not the 'right stuff' as far as I'm concerned," he said, alluding to the book and 1983 film about early NASA crews, "The Right Stuff."

The internal NASA panel was set up to review astronaut health after astronaut Lisa Nowak in February was arrested and charged with trying to kidnap a woman who was dating another astronaut. NASA fired her in March.

The agency suffered another setback in April, when contractor Bill Phillips sneaked a revolver past security at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, shot a male colleague dead and killed himself.

The agency also faced political criticism in May when its chief Michael Griffin drew fire for questioning the need to tackle global warming.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Udall Urges Conrad To Question Nussle On NASA Funding
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 27, 2007
As part of an ongoing effort by the House Committee on Science and Technology to highlight and address the dire funding situation at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO) has enlisted the help of Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND). The growing mismatch between the financial resources being provided to NASA by the Administration and the tasks that NASA is being asked to carry out are of key concern.

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