From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

NASA responds to claims of drinking problem
Agency promises to investigate report’s allegations of heavy alcohol use

An independent panel was told that intoxicated NASA astronauts were allowed to fly on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and cleared to fly on the space shuttle, the panel’s chairman said Friday. In response, NASA said it is launching an investigation to try to verify the allegations, will embrace an astronaut code of conduct and would weigh changes in its drinking policies. The two specific allegations about alcohol use were contained in the independent panel’s report, released Friday. Air Force Col. Richard Bachmann Jr., who chaired the panel, provided additional details during a NASA news briefing in Washington.

Speaking over a telephone link, Bachmann said the Soyuz case involved a NASA astronaut who was cleared for launch to the international space station, even though some were concerned that the astronaut’s alcohol consumption raised a flight risk. In the case involving the shuttle, Bachmann said the mission was delayed for mechanical reasons and the astronaut wanted to fly a jet from Florida back home to Houston. He said he didn’t know the outcome. Bachmann said the two incidents were representative of the kinds of reports he and other panel members heard about alcohol use in the astronaut corps. He stressed, however, that his panel did not independently verify the incidents cited by flight surgeons and astronauts. “In none of these can we say factually they did or did not occur,” he said. Bachmann said it was not the panel’s mission to investigate allegations, and that NASA would have to ferret out the details.

NASA’s top managers said they were unaware of any astronauts who were drunk before a flight but promised to investigate further. “We will act immediately on the more troubling aspects of this report,” NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said during Friday’s briefing. Bryan O’Connor, NASA’s chief of safety and mission assurance, was in charge of the investigation, she said. Bachmann said he was “very glad to hear” that NASA was taking action. NASA created Bachmann’s independent panel, as well as an internal review board headed by Johnson Space Center director Mike Coats, after the arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak in February on charges she tried to kidnap her rival in a love triangle. Both panels issued reports that were released by NASA Friday. The internal review focused on the issue of psychological screening of astronauts, and specifically on Nowak’s case. The independent panel also dealt with screening procedures but did not refer by name to Nowak or any other astronaut.

Bachmann, an aerospace medical specialist with the Air Force, said his panel deliberately did not seek out pertinent details on alcohol use, such as exactly when the heavy drinking occurred. The overriding concern, he said, was that flight surgeons were ignored. “There’s certainly no intent to impugn the entire astronaut corps,” Bachmann said. “We don’t have enough data to call it alcohol abuse. We have no way of knowing if these are the only two incidents that have ever occurred in the history of the astronaut corps or if they’re the
tip of a very large iceberg.” NASA has long had a policy that prohibits any drinking in the 12 hours before an astronaut flies a training jet. The space agency said that policy has historically been applied to spaceflights, too. But as a result of the panel’s report, the rule will officially be applied to spaceflights, NASA said. An astronaut code of conduct also is in the works. Dale said the commander of the next space shuttle mission, set for launch Aug. 7, has already met with O’Connor to discuss the allegations and the behavior expectations for the upcoming flight. Both commander Scott Kelly and the crew’s flight surgeon were encouraged to raise any safety issues, Dale said.


“NASA probably has powdered beer in space, because NASA knows how to prioritize. It’s like Tang. Except it’s beer. So what do you do when you feel your fellow astronaut might be orbiting under the influence? Nothing, because you’re an astronaut and you’re drunk too. Let’s say there were interstellar law enforcement spaceships that could police the area around earth (Who cares about the other planets really?). Typical symptoms of drunk driving wouldn’t apply. First of all, flying isn’t driving and secondly there’s nothing to run into in space anyway. ”
Panel Finds Astronauts Flew While Intoxicated
by Frank Morring / Jul 26, 2007

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.


“Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov, just back from space, said that alcohol should be allowed on the International Space Station as it helps to cope with stress and enhances performance, the RIA-Novosti news agency reports. Sharipov was speaking at the first news conference organized after he, U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori successfully completed their mission on the ISS on Monday. The Russian cosmonaut said that it would be “desirable” for spacemen to have 50 milliliters of wine or cognac every day. “But only to improve our work, to better cope with the psychological stress,” Sharipov said. The Russian Soyuz capsule with the Russian, American and Italian astronauts landed safely in Kazakhstan in the early hours of Monday. Sharipov and Chiao, who have manned the station since last October, returned with Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori, who spent 10 days in space, having accompanied the two-man crew that relieved Sharipov and Chiao.””

“Sometimes, spacemen get a treat. Delicatessen are hidden, in defiance of all service regulations, in packages mailed by their relatives and friends. Some two hours before a cargo craft is due to leave Earth, fruit, vegetables and other perishable products are added
to the payload and there is no way to put an end to this dispatch of last-minute gifts to the orbital station. Once, a whole water melon was smuggled to orbit. It successfully got there. Voice of Russia listeners like to ask cosmonauts whether they are allowed to take a stiff drink.  Cosmonaut Gennady Manakov says that “fellow-crewman Gennady Strekalov turned 50 on October 8, 1990. Some ten days before that a cargo craft docked with the space lab. It brought packages and parcels from our families. On opening them, we found letters, newspapers, and some food stuffs – garlic (it went down well with rye bread,) two cans of beer and a plastic bottle of cognac.”

Alcoholic beverages are banned on space missions but cosmonauts are, like all natural men, apt to smuggle liquor for the celebration of different holidays. Mere drops of liquor. And, they use needle less syringes instead of glasses in outer space. Glasses won’t do under zero gravity. Syringes serve just fine.”


How to Make a Cosmonaut:

2 parts Tang(r) powdered soft drink
1 part vodka
3 crushed ice cubes

Bottle-to-Throttle. Drunk Astronauts Cleared for Launch
by Fraser Cain  /  July 27, 2007

The story broke yesterday, thanks to Aviation Week, but now NASA has come forth with the official details from a probe that investigated astronaut health. According to the report, there were two times in the past that astronauts were cleared to fly, even though they were still drunk from partying the night before.

In the first situation, a shuttle astronaut’s blood tested beyond the limits for alcohol, but was still cleared to fly. Fortunately, the mission was delayed for mechanical reasons. In the other situation, an astronaut flew on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, getting drunk with his cosmonaut comrades.

NASA has a policy that prohibits any drinking in the 12 hours before an astronaut flies in a training jet – the bottle-to-throttle time – and this policy has applied to spaceflights as well. But it wasn’t enforced. As a result of this new panel, the rule will be official – no drunk astronauts allowed.

This independent panel was set up by NASA after the situation with Lisa Nowak earlier this year. In case you’ve already forgotten, Nowak was arrested for attempting to kidnap the extra person in her love triangle with another astronaut.

In addition to tightening the alcohol policies, NASA is also planning to write up an official astronaut code of conduct. The full report, including details about Nowak, the drunken astronauts, and the investigators’ findings is available from NASA, here.

Independent panel’s review (PDF file)

Internal review by Johnson Space Center (PDF file)

NASA’s public medical review fact sheet (PDF file)

Frequently asked questions from NASA

Monica Novotny talks to former space and shuttle engineer James Oberg about a new report that says NASA let astronauts fly drunk on two occasions.

Texas company provided sabotaged computer
No suspects or motives have been identified, said rep from Invocon

A Houston-area company supplied NASA with a computer that had been deliberately damaged, a company official said Friday. The computer is slated to fly to the international space station next month aboard space shuttle Endeavour. The space agency announced Thursday that wires inside the computer had been cut.

The manufacturer, Invocon Inc., an electronics research and development firm based in Conroe, Texas, has not yet identified any suspects or motives, said Invocon program director Kevin Champaigne. Story continues below ↓advertisement “We don’t know if it was just one person or if it was more than one,” he said. Invocon made the unit for Boeing Co., NASA’s main contractor for the space station, he said.

Asked about the sabotage at a news conference in Washington on Friday, NASA’s Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said she couldn’t provide any more details because the agency’s inspector general was investigating the incident. The sabotage report came a day before NASA released the findings of an independent panel  set up by the space agency to study astronaut health issues after the arrest in February of former astronaut Lisa Nowak on assault charges. The panel found “heavy use of alcohol” by astronauts within 12 hours of launch, which is against NASA rules.

On Thursday, NASA officials said the damaged hardware did not pose a safety risk. The hardware, which is about half the size of a briefcase, is headed to the space station to collect data from strain gauges on an outside beam. Invocon alerted Boeing after finding severed wires in an identical unit they were testing last week. The unit delivered to NASA and another in storage had similar damage. Ed Memi, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, said the two units were last tested on June 4 at Invocon and shipped to Boeing about a week later. Boeing is repairing them with help from Invocon staff.

NASA reports computer sabotage
Official says damage has been repaired on part due for launch to
station / July 26, 2007

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A space program worker deliberately damaged a computer that is supposed to fly aboard the shuttle Endeavour in less than two weeks, an act of sabotage that was caught before the equipment was loaded onto the spaceship, NASA said Thursday. The unidentified employee, who works for a NASA subcontractor, cut wires inside the computer that is supposed to be delivered to the international space station by Endeavour, said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s space operations chief. The worker also damaged a similar computer that was not meant to fly to space. Gerstenmaier said the damage, which occurred outside Florida, was reported to NASA by the subcontractor. “It was disclosed to us as soon as the event occurred, about a week and a half ago,” Gerstenmaier said.

Even if the subcontractor hadn’t notified NASA, officials would have found the problem before launch, he said: “The damage is very obvious, easy to detect. It’s not a mystery to us.” The same subcontractor also builds gauges for the shuttle’s wings and other station computer components, Gerstenmaier said. No other damage was detected, on Earth or in space, he said. Gerstenmaier declined to identify the subcontractor or where the damage took place, citing an investigation by NASA’s inspector general. He also declined to speculate on whether the sabotage was motivated by a workplace dispute or other factors — but he stressed that the tampering had nothing to do with a continuing strike at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center by a machinists union.

NASA hopes to fix the computer and launch it Aug. 7 as planned aboard Endeavour. The computer is designed for use aboard the space station, not the shuttle, and the damage would have posed no danger to either shuttle or station astronauts, Gerstenmaier said. The computer, which is to be placed in the U.S.-built Destiny laboratory, is designed to collect and relay data from sensors on the station’s external trusses. The sensors detect vibrations and forces, such as micrometeoroid impacts. Currently, those readings are stored in the sensors and not immediately accessible. But the computer is not considered a critical item. “If we don’t get it repaired in time, we’ll fly without it,” said NASA spokesman Kyle Herring. “It’s not an issue.” The damage is believed to be the first act of sabotage of flight equipment NASA has discovered, Gerstenmaier and shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said.

Official go-ahead for launch
The issue came up as Hale and other managers assessed Endeavour’s readiness for the Aug. 7 liftoff. On Thursday, the management team gave the official go-ahead for launch. Endeavour, fresh from a complete overhaul and the last of NASA’s three remaining shuttles to return to flight following the 2003 Columbia disaster, is due to install a new structural beam on the international space station during a mission scheduled to last at least 11 days. It will be NASA’s second shuttle flight of the year. Endeavour was almost totally rebuilt during its overhaul and was like a new space shuttle, Hale said. “It’s like driving a new car off the showroom floor,” he said.

How much would being impaired hurt a launch?
by Eric Berger  /  July 26, 2007

Five minutes before a space shuttle rockets into orbit, the pilot flips a switch that provides power to critical systems during launch. From that moment until 8 1/2 minutes after liftoff, the pilot, commander and the rest of the space shuttle’s crew become hands-off observers unless there’s a significant problem. But those few minutes of the flight into space are perhaps the most crucial, not the time for any crew members to be impaired as is alleged to have happened on at least two launches in the shuttle’s history, according to a report being released today. “For all intents and purposes those are the last manual switch throws until you’re on orbit,” said former astronaut Charles Bolden, a two-time pilot and two-time commander of shuttle missions, of the auxiliary power unit activation. “But it’s not a time for the commander and pilot to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’ You’re really, really monitoring the controls and displays as you go up.”

The precise role of crew members during ascent is likely to emerge as a critical issue today when NASA releases a report on astronaut health matters, commissioned in the wake of Lisa Nowak’s arrest. The report is expected to conclude that two astronauts were cleared to fly despite concerns they were so intoxicated they posed a flight- safety risk. It’s a tradition for crew members, their spouses and friends to gather for a barbecue on the eve of a shuttle launch, and these gatherings sometimes include alcohol and a toast, said Dr. Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon who now works as a liaison between the space agency and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute. “Most of the astronauts are so tired, they’re just going to want to go back and go to bed,” Clark said.

Five hours before the scheduled launch, the astronauts wake up in their crew quarters, have breakfast and a short checkup with a flight surgeon and receive status updates. After that they travel to the launchpad and get strapped into the vehicle. This is a cumbersome process because their flight suits are bulky and, as the rocket is pointed skyward, they “sit” on their backs. Prior to flight all crew members perform several checks on their suits and communication systems. Launch is so critical, Bolden said, that about 90 percent of commander training is dedicated to launch-day training, and specifically the brief ascent to orbit. The “ascent checklist” for a recent flight, STS-117, exceeded 200 pages.

But much of the tasks concern a scenario that has never occurred, an engine failure or some other problem that would force the commander and pilot to assume control of the shuttle and pilot it to an emergency landing site in Europe. Upon reaching orbit most of the crew is busy with post-ascent checklists, such as checking the cargo brought up during the flight. As a flight surgeon, Clark said there are greater worries for astronauts than a hangover. Preparation before a flight can leave overworked astronauts sleep-deprived. Their flight medications can also cause problems, as can the motion sickness that accompanies an intense, bumpy ride into orbit. “It’s a high-stress period, and the biggest threat is that they’re sleep-deprived and overworked before they start,” Clark said. “That’s a far greater challenge than drinking the night before a flight.”

{email : eric [dot] berger [at] chron [dot] com}


Re:Is launching a shuttle so difficult?
by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28

“I worked on shuttle GN&C software for 7 years written mainly in HAL/S and about 20 other assorted languages if you count test scripts, DFG, I-LOAD, K-LOAD, etc…. Haven’t been there since 1995 when I entered the private consulting business.

For a nominal launch, astronauts just sit there. All the talk is just that, talk. Until the SRBs are gone, it is a very bumpy ride I’ve been told. It is likely they’ve been sitting there upside down for over 4 hours, more likely 6+. I don’t know about you, but my legs would have gone asleep after 20 minutes. They wear pressure suites, not G-suites, in case someone was going to say that would keep their legs from going to sleep. For any type of abort, the pilot and copilot will need to do something – push buttons, grab the stick, push more buttons and lower the landing gear. I didn’t see in the report or on NASA select yesterday where anyone was identified as pilot, copilot or mission specialists.

Ok, back when I was working on the 3-engine out project with, I don’t know, 4 other folks, writing modules to handle this catasprophy, we decided to have an “offsite team building exercise.” That’s code for mid-afternoon meeting at a local bar. A few of us were in there when an astronaut – not known to me, but known by a coworker that had a plane – came over. He exchanged niceties and we described what we were working on – 3 engine out scenarios. The response? A direct quote, “Hell, your just gonna die anyways.” To which my freind responded, “Yes, but now it will be automated.”

Ok, most of the big software projects after challenger were “safety” related – what a waste of time and money. Imagine you’ve been sitting upside down for 4-8+ hours. Something bad happens, the vehicle is spinning in ways it never was meant to spin. Suppose, just suppose you aren’t unconcious (very unlikely) due to the spinning and G-forces. Try to unbuckle, get out of your seat, crawl, fly, walk, whatever in a dark enclosure to the “pole”. Someone has to deploy the pole, next click yourself to that pole and slide out it. You’re still spinning. Whatever is left of the shuttle is trying to keep the vehicle stead and oriented like an aircraft on the ground. GOOD LUCK with that.

As far as automatic landing is concerned – the shuttle GN&C software has had the ability to do that since before 1989 – probably long before that. The **only** manual item left to be performed is lowering the landing gear. This part of the software has never been used on a mission, though it is part of every OPS 3 load. Think about it. You train and train as an astronuat for years, you finally get a flight – usually just 1. I doubt it is even discussed whether the computers will land or not. One chance, what would you do? I’d grab that stick and land that bugger myself.”

Owner at NASA hangout doubts fliers were drunk
Patrons say their confidence in the agency will drop if the reports are true
by Dale Lezon

Some astronauts may toss down a few alcoholic drinks at parties, but patrons at a favorite NASA eatery near the Johnson Space Center question if any of them rocketed into orbit drunk. “I don’t believe it,” said Frankie Camera, owner of Frenchie’s Italian Restaurant. The cozy spot is a monument to NASA and astronauts, many of whom have frequented it for years, Camera said. Framed, signed photographs of smiling astronauts, orbiting space shuttles and rockets rising from billowing fireballs adorn the walls.

Camera said he’s planned and catered banquets for astronauts for years and he’s never seen any drink very much. Even the original seven depicted in the book The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe and the film by the same name, never drank excessively that he saw, Camera added. “The Mercury astronauts may have been a little more wild (than later ones) but I did banquets for them and never really saw any of them drink so much they were out of control or drunk,” he said.

NASA has scheduled a news conference today to discuss the findings of two reports on astronaut medical and behavioral health. One of the reports discovered heavy drinking before launches, according to Aviation Week and Space Technology, a weekly aviation publication that reviewed the findings. If the report is true, said Chris Clayton, 26, it would shatter his confidence in the space agency. He and Deanna McGregor, 20, who ate lunch together at Frenchie’s Thursday, were stunned about the allegations. Clayton said he loves sitting in the restaurant and looking at all th NASA mementos. “I’m a little disappointed,” he said. “You want to have a little faith. … It makes you wonder if they are doing they’re job.”

McGregor said if the revelations are accurate, she wonders if astronauts and others take their jobs seriously. “I wouldn’t expect that from NASA,” she said. “If you have rules,
you’d think you’d abide by them.”

{email : dale [dot] lezon [at] chron [dot] com}

Beer in Space, a short but frothy history
Anna Davison  /  31 July 2007

After allegations that astronauts flew drunk, NASA’s rules on alcohol are under scrutiny. The agency currently doesn’t allow its astronauts to imbibe in orbit, but over the years of crewed space travel, many astronauts have enjoyed a tipple. In 1969, Buzz Aldrin took communion after landing on the Moon, sipping wine from a small chalice. In the Moon’s feeble gravity, he later wrote, the wine swirled like syrup around the cup.

Small amounts of alcohol were apparently allowed on the Soviet space station Mir, and when Russian astronauts joined the International Space Station, there were some grumblings about the decree that it be dry. That hasn’t stopped some researchers from working on ways to brew and serve alcohol in space, however. Graduate student Kirsten Sterrett at the University of Colorado in the US wrote a thesis on fermentation in space, with support from US beer behemoth Coors. She sent a miniature brewing kit into orbit aboard a space shuttle several years ago and produced a few sips of beer. She later sampled the space brew, but because of chemicals in and near it from her analysis, it didn’t taste great by the time she tried it.

“Kirsten Sterrett used a “Fluid Processing Apparatus”
to ferment beer on a space shuttle”

Beyond the challenge of producing beer in space is the problem of serving it, says Jonathan Clark, a former flight surgeon and now the space medicine liaison for the National Space Biomedical Research Institute in Houston, Texas, US. Without gravity, bubbles don’t rise, so “obviously the foam isn’t going to come to a head”, Clark told New Scientist.

The answer, Dutch researchers suggested in 2000, is to store beer in a flexible membrane inside a barrel. Air can be pumped between the barrel and the membrane, forcing the beer out of a tap. Astronauts could then use straws to suck up blobs of beer (see Beer balls).

Wet burps
Unfortunately for thirsty astronauts, beer is poorly suited to space consumption because of the gas it includes. Without gravity to draw liquids to the bottoms of their stomachs, leaving gases at the top, astronauts tend to produce wet burps. “That’s one of the reasons why we don’t have carbonated beverages on the space menu,” NASA spokesperson William Jeffs told New Scientist. Jeffs says no research has been done on the effects of alcohol in a microgravity environment. But he says: “There may be differences in alcohol absorption and metabolism in space, which makes one suspect that there may be differences in the effects of alcohol in space.”

Clark says medications sometimes have unusual effects in space, which “run the gamut from increased to decreased reactions”. So, should astronauts be allowed to drink in space? “It depends on the length of the mission and any cultural norms,” says Jay Buckey, a former astronaut who studies space physiology at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, US. “Mine was a very short mission,” says Buckey, who spent 16 days aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1998. “I didn’t see any need for it.”

NASA etc



22 December 2000

“Future residents of the International Space Station could be toasting Christmas with a draught beer. A specially-designed barrel that overcomes the problems of storing and pouring beer in space has been designed by a team at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The major challenge was to work out a way to dispense the beer. Conventional technology forces the beer out by injecting a gas – usually carbon dioxide – into the liquid. But in zero gravity, the liquid would float around inside the barrel. This would mean that as much gas as beer would comes out of the tap, making it undrinkable.

Flexible membrane
But now, after three and a half years of research, the team think they have the ideal barrel. “It has a flexible membrane, which contains the beer, inside the barrel,” says Kajsa van Overbeek, the project supervisor. “Normal air is pumped between the barrel wall and the membrane to force the beer out.” The team sent the barrel up in the European Space Agency’s “vomit comet” to test it. This plane flies in a series of free falls and climbs to give 30 seconds of simulated zero gravity each time. The results could not have been better, says Veele Sterken, the Delft project leader. As soon as they opened the tap, the beer poured itself. It came out in balls, each as big as a table tennis ball – about a mouthful. An astronaut would simply have to grab a straw and suck.”