NASA: Policy on Booze Before Space Flights Clarified

NASA says it has issued an "explicit" policy on alcohol consumption by astronauts before they launch and will begin an internal review of allegation that astronauts have been allowed to launch drunk in the past. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, an independent report suggests structural and cultural issues at the space agency may be affecting the astronaut corps.

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Although the report was short on facts, it did point to at least two instances where astronauts were allowed to launch while impaired by alcohol. Air Force Col. Dr. Richard Bachmann chaired the Astronaut Health Care Review Committee, commissioned by NASA to review astronaut health after the Lisa Nowak incident earlier this year. He says the review was not a legal investigation.

"We did not get an exact time when the first or last drink was consumed or exactly when the launch was scheduled. The relevant point is actually the concern that the flight surgeon and that that concern appeared to them to be disregarded."

In what sounded like a contradiction of NASA's official response to the alcohol incidents, Dr. Bachmann seemed to indicate there may have been more than just two incidents of pre-flight alcohol consumption.

"The sense that we got was that the issues that are being raised are not mission type or craft specific. They were described in all the settings. So it's not unique to the Shuttle. It's not unique to the T-38. It's not unique to the Space Station."

NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale denied knowledge of any more than two alleged incidents and made it a point to refer to them as allegations that haven't been substantiated. She says NASA has begun its own investigation and has issued a revised and explicit policy on alcohol consumption before upcoming launches.

"We want to make sure everybody understands what are expectations are, which is that you will not consume alcohol within 12 hours of flight and also that you will neither be under the influence nor the effects of alcohol at the time of launch."

NASA Director of Flight Crew Operations Ellen Ochoa says the allegations of astronauts launching drunk should not taint how the public perceives the human space flight program.

"There have been events in which isolated cases have happened which I think baffle us. In this case we really don't have the details and don't fully understand it. But it really shouldn't paint of picture of the astronaut corps or of how we carry out human space flight at NASA."

But that might be a tough sell for Larry, who only wanted to give his first name outside a Clear Lake gas station.

"You can't be drunk on a boat. You can't be drunk in your car. You can't be drunk in public. But it's okay to be drunk and go to the moon? I don't understand it."

The report did not indicate when the pre-flight alcohol consumption took place, but the committee did interview both current and former astronauts who had been with NASA for several decades.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...