Aug. 31, 2007 A NASA safety review released August 29 found no evidence to support claims that astronauts were impaired by alcohol when they flew in space.
NASA chief of Safety and Mission Assurance Bryan O'Connor conducted the month long review to evaluate allegations included in the Astronaut Health Care System Review Committee's report, which was released in late July.
"I have said many times during the past weeks that NASA takes these allegations very seriously -- just as we would any issues that could impact the safety of our missions," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told a news conference at NASA Headquarters. "But at the same time, I also have said that the stories cited in the report seem improbable to those of us familiar with the astronauts' rigorous and very public activities during the hours leading up to a space flight."
O'Connor's review covered the past 20 years of space flight and includes:
- approximately 90 interviews with participants and witnesses to the last few days before shuttle and Soyuz launches, including current and former astronauts, flight surgeons, research and operations support nurses, shuttle suite technicians, closeout crew technicians and the managers and staff of crew quarters, including managers familiar with the crew quarters in Kazakhstan;
- a review of more than 40,000 records dating back to 1984, including mishap and close call reports, anonymous safety reports, safety hotline reports and disciplinary actions involving alcohol and drugs. These records cover 94 shuttle missions and 10 Soyuz missions;
- a review of relevant policies, procedures and near-launch timelines and staffing; and
- an inspection of crew quarters at Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
O'Connor interviewed almost 80 percent of active astronauts and all current operational flight surgeons. None of them corroborated allegations of preflight alcohol use or claims that management disregarded flight surgeon concerns about alcohol impairment and astronauts' fitness to fly.
"My review represents a good deal more investigation than normally would be done in response to an anonymous safety concern," O'Connor said. "As a result, I am confident there are enough safeguards in place to prevent an impaired crewmember from being strapped into a spacecraft."
NASA is moving forward with a wide range of improvements based on other recommendations from the Astronaut Health Care System Review Committee's report.
Working with members of the astronaut corps, NASA is developing a formal astronaut code of conduct, or "Expected Astronaut Principles of Behavior," which will be a document that outlines expectations. The agency's medical managers also are studying how changes and initiatives advocated by the committee would fit into NASA health care procedures in a way that improves their effectiveness.
And NASA has accepted recommendations concerning the analysis and use of behavioral health data to improve astronaut selection criteria.
NASA will convene expert working groups to advise the agency on possible changes to its psychological testing. Additional training for flight surgeons in behavioral health assessments is planned, and evaluations will be added to annual flight physicals for all astronauts. Continuity of care in NASA clinics will be evaluated. The agency will ensure better clinical communication through regular meetings between behavioral health providers and flight surgeons.
In addition, NASA plans to improve procedures and instructions used in the administration of health care services for its behavioral health clinic. Briefings by flight surgeons to crewmembers are being re-emphasized to ensure astronauts fully understand the nature and purpose of all health-related testing and data collection. Senior NASA leaders also are holding meetings with flight surgeons and astronauts to ensure they understand the multiple pathways to communicate safety and health concerns.
To view O'Connor's report, along with a transcript and video of Wednesday's news conference, visit:
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