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Friday, July 27, 2007

Alcohol Said to Pose Risk for Astronauts


At least twice, astronauts were allowed to fly after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so drunk they posed a flight-safety risk, an aviation weekly reported Thursday, citing a special panel studying astronaut health.

The independent panel found "heavy use of alcohol" before launch, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology, which reported the finding on its Web site.

The alcohol use by astronauts was within the standard 12-hour "bottle-to-throttle" rule applied to NASA flight crew members, Aviation Week said. The panel was created following the arrest in February of former space shuttle flier Lisa Nowak, who was implicated in a love triangle.

NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said Thursday it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the matter before the report is released Friday when a news conference is planned.

Asked if he had ever personally had to deal with a safety issue involving an inebriated astronaut in space, Gerstenmaier replied: "The obvious answer is no. I've never had any instances of that.

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

NASA plans to release the findings of a pair of reviews - one by the outside committee and the other by an internal panel - into astronauts' health Friday.

The independent panel's NASA consultant and its eight members, which include Air Force experts in aerospace medicine and clinical psychiatry, did not immediately return phone messages or e-mails from the Associated Press Thursday afternoon.

Aviation Week said the report citing drunkenness - ordered by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin - does not deal directly with Nowak or mention any other astronaut by name.

Nowak is accused of attacking the girlfriend of a fellow astronaut - her romantic rival - with pepper spray in a parking lot at Orlando International Airport. Fired by NASA in March, she has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault.

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