A panel reviewing astronaut health issues in the wake of the Lisa Nowak arrest has found that on at least two occasions astronauts were allowed to fly after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so intoxicated that they posed a flight-safety risk.
The panel, also reported "heavy use of alcohol" by astronauts before launch, within the standard 12-hour "bottle to throttle" rule applied to NASA flight crew members.
A NASA spokesman declined comment on the findings, which were obtained by Aviation Week & Space Technology. The spokesman said a press conference has tentatively been scheduled for Friday afternoon on the issue. At the direction of Administrator Michael Griffin, NASA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard S. Williams set up the panel to review astronaut medical and psychological screening after Nowak was arrested in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 5 on charges of attempted murder and attempted kidnapping for allegedly stalking and threatening a woman who was dating another astronaut. The attempted murder charge was subsequently dropped.
The panel is composed of military and civilian government physicians, psychologists, lawyers, safety experts and astronauts under the chairmanship of U.S. Air Force Col. Richard Bachmann, dean of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. Panel members visited Johnson Space Center in April to gather information from flight surgeons and the astronaut office on astronaut health screening. A panel member said Wednesday the report was still in draft form, and probably would be released in August. Separately, Griffin ordered JSC Director Mike Coats to review intake and on-going psychological screening for astronaut candidates and astronauts, and to recommend changes if necessary.
Griffin also directed Coats, himself a former astronaut, to "determine whether there were any areas of concern - any leading indicators we might have picked up on, based on Lisa Nowak's dealings with other astronauts or NASA employees," in the words of Deputy Administrator Shana Dale.
The Bachmann panel report apparently does not deal directly with Nowak or mention any other astronaut by name. Coats' findings also will be part of the press conference on Friday, according to the agency spokesman.
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