London, Jan 24 : An anonymous health care survey done by NASA has vehemently refuted a claim by an independent review committee about some of its astronauts flying drunk.
According to a report in New Scientist, an independent review on astronaut health care reported that NASA had repeatedly ignored safety concerns, with many of its astronauts having alcohol problems. An example, which the review presented in its report in support of its claims, was an incident involving astronaut Lisa Nowak, who donned diapers and drove 1500 km across the US before assaulting a romantic rival in February last year.
In response to these allegations, NASA conducted an anonymous web based survey on 31 flight surgeons and 87 of its 98 current astronauts.
These astronauts and flight surgeons were questioned about reports of the drunken astronaut on launch day.
They were also asked about the level of communication and trust among astronauts and flight surgeons, their knowledge of safety procedures and policy, and whether they would be comfortable raising safety concerns.
NASA officials also interviewed hundreds of personnel and reviewed two decades of records. hat the survey returned in its results was that all the tales involving drunken astronauts were nothing but urban myths.
As for the incident involving Lisa Nowak, NASA officials referred to it as "a single isolated incident of perceived impairment of a crew member."
According to the report, this episode occurred "in the final days before launch, but not on launch day or within 12 hours of a launch or aviation event".
"The astronaut was apparently suffering ill effects from a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol," said Ellen Ochoa, deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, US. While the original independent review committee reported that NASA had repeatedly ignored safety concerns, the latest report by the agency paints a much rosier picture.
According to NASA, astronauts and flight surgeons now have a better working relationship than ever and they feel comfortable raising safety concerns.
"They're extremely competent and extremely professional and concerned about doing a great job," said Ochoa.
"NASA doesn't plan to make specific changes to its policies or procedures in response to the survey," said Jeff Davis, director of the Space Life Sciences Directorate at Johnson Space Center. "But, there's now a heightened awareness of safety issues," he added.