| Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Florida on June 8, 2007. (AFP)
Cape Canaveral (Florida), July 27 (AP): America’s space agency has been shaken by two startling and unrelated reports: One involved claims that astronauts were drunk before flying. The other was news from Nasa itself that a worker had sabotaged a computer set for delivery to the international space station.
It was just another jolt yesterday for an operation that has had a rocky year from the start, beginning with the arrest of an astronaut accused of attacking a rival in a love triangle.
“It’s going to shake up the world, I’ll tell you that,” retired Nasa executive Seymour Himmel said of the latest news. “There will be congressional hearings that you will not be able to avoid.” News of the two latest bombshells broke within just a few hours of each other yesterday.
Aviation Week & Space Technology reported on its website that a special panel studying astronaut health found that on two occasions, astronauts were allowed to fly after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so drunk they posed a safety risk.
The independent panel also found “heavy use of alcohol” before launch, the magazine reported, although that drinking was within the standard 12-hour “bottle-to-throttle” rule. A Nasa official confirmed the report contains such details, but said they were from anonymous interviews and not substantiated.
The Aviation Week story did not say how long ago the alleged incidents took place, nor did it say whether it involved pilots or other crew members.
Nasa’s space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier also revealed that an employee for a Nasa subcontractor had cut the wires in a computer that was about to be loaded into the shuttle Endeavour for launch.
The subcontractor, which he would not name, contacted Nasa one-and-a-half weeks ago, as soon as it learned that another computer had been damaged deliberately, Gerstenmaier said. Had the contractor not discovered the problem, Nasa would have uncovered it by testing the computer before launch.
He refused to speculate on the worker’s motive. He also would not say where the sabotage occurred. He said it did not happen in Florida and had nothing to do with an ongoing strike at the Kennedy Space Center by a machinists’ union.