Astronauts use heavy alcohol before launch

There were at least two occasions when surgeons and other astronauts warned U.S. astronauts were so drunk that they posed a flight-safety risk, an aviation weekly reported Thursday.

An independent panel studying astronaut health found "heavy use of alcohol" before launch, according to Aviation Week & Space Technology, which reported the finding on its Web site.

The panel was created following the arrest in February of former space shuttle astronaut Lisa Nowak, who was accused of attacking the girlfriend of a fellow astronaut - her romantic rival - with pepper spray in a Florida parking lot. Nowak pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary with assault and was dismissed by NASA in March.

NASA requested an independent, external committee conduct a review of health services available to astronauts. The results of that and an internal assessment will be presented by NASA on Friday.

Aviation Week said the report - ordered by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin - does not deal directly with Nowak or mention any other astronaut by name.

NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said Thursday it would be inappropriate for him to discuss the matter before the report is released Friday.

Asked if he had ever had to deal personally with a safety issue involving a drunk astronaut in space, Gerstenmaier replied, "The obvious answer is no. I've never had any instances of that.

"There's not been a disciplinary action or anything I've been involved with regarding this type of activity," he said.

The independent panel's NASA consultant and its eight members, which include Air Force experts in aerospace medicine and clinical psychiatry, did not immediately return phone messages or e-mails from the Associated Press on Thursday afternoon.

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