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NASA considering testing astronauts for alcohol - agency head

RIA Novosti

30/08/2007 12:31 WASHINGTON, August 30 (RIA Novosti) - Following recent media reports that U.S. astronauts have on occasion flown drunk, NASA will consider instituting limited testing of flight crews and employees, the agency's director said.

Addressing a news conference Wednesday, Michael Griffin said that while a newly released report into the allegations revealed no concrete evidence of alcohol use prior to spaceflights, NASA would nevertheless implement a testing program whenever suspicion warranted it or in the event of a mishap.

An independent panel alleged last month that impaired astronauts had flown twice in the past, but the 45-page report released Wednesday by NASA's chief safety officer, Bryan O'Connor, concluded the incidents could not be verified.

"I was unable to verify any case in which an astronaut spaceflight crewmember was impaired on launch day," the report said.

The investigation, which looked at missions dating back to 1984, but focused primarily on three flights between 1990 and 1995, was launched following a recommendation in July by an eight-member panel of medical experts.

The resulting report emphasized that despite some evidence of drinking by non-flight personnel, pre-flight procedures were so closely scrutinized that any surreptitious drinking would be effectively out of the question.

The report nevertheless stressed that NASA doctors needed to play a greater role in monitoring astronauts prior to launches, and recommended that drinking in general be added to a list of activities prohibited to astronauts in the year before a launch.

The close attention now being leveled at the gung-ho astronaut culture, whose members are near-mythical figures thanks to books such as Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff, arose in the wake of shuttle astronaut Lisa Nowak's confrontation with a romantic rival in a Florida parking lot and the charges of attempted kidnapping and assault filed against her.

She was subsequently fired by NASA and is due to stand trial in September, when she is expected to plead temporary insanity.

Allegations by some NASA employees that an astronaut had on one occasion boarded the shuttle in an impaired condition, and that another one had flown to the International Space Station on board a Russian Soyuz under the influence, prompted the internal review.

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