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NASA Space

Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem 138

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the it's-hard-to-call-a-cab-in-space dept.
Pcol writes "Aviation Week reports that astronauts were allowed to fly on at least two occasions after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so intoxicated that they posed a flight-safety risk. A review panel, convened in the wake of the Lisa Nowak arrest to review astronaut medical and psychological screening, 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. Dr. Jonathan Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon, says it's a tradition for crew members to gather for a barbecue on the eve of a shuttle launch, and these gatherings sometimes include alcohol and a toast but that the greater problem is that preparation before a flight can leave astronauts sleep-deprived and overworked. Meanwhile at Frenchie's Italian Restaurant, a popular astronaut hangout in Houston, owner Frankie Camera disputed the reports: "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.""
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Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:23AM (#20022447)
    But on the moon, blood alcohol is one-third of what is on Earth.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by richlv (778496)
      bleh. so many comments and nobody mentioned bad astronaut ?
      http://www.interpunk.com/item.cfm?Item=86168 [interpunk.com]

      cover picture is nice :)
    • by WED Fan (911325)

      F*ck that noise. You strap yourself into a seat that is attached to a liquid rocket tank and boosted by a bunch of solid rocket fuel and tell me your punk ass wouldn't go up half lit.

      These guys are heros, American and otherwise.

      Most on /. would give their left nut and right hand to go up into space, but most of those would sh!t themselves silly when the engines light off.

    • That's why I have three bottles of Scotch for if I ever get there.

  • by joshv (13017) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:26AM (#20022457)
    My impression is that the Shuttle either gets to orbit on auto-pilot, entirely computer controlled, or it explodes. It's not like anyone is "steering" the thing manually, or pushing buttons in carefully timed sequences.

    Now landing requires a bit of skill, but unless they have been nipping at the massive stash of Russian Vodka on the space station, they will have sobered up by landing time.
    • by Konster (252488) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:30AM (#20022485)
      Or an drunk astronaut decides to start mashing buttons just for fun...
    • by pimpimpim (811140) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:32AM (#20022493)
      Are astronauts fully conscious during take-off? Are you actually able to do anything at all under these high g-forces? Then again, doing work that requires skill and concentration the next day (and in-space time is limited, so you can't really take an easy day) with a hangover might be not so stimulating.
      • by joshv (13017)
        Skill and concentration? Taking notes on some high school "what do spiders do in space" experiment?

        Though having a hangover during an EVA would probably be pretty trippy. "Jesus, could somebody turn the Sun down!"
      • by pnewhook (788591)
        Shuttle pilots experience less than 4gs during takeoff - That's not onerous to deal with.
        • For comparison, if you've been on the "Gravitron" (aka "Starship 2000") amusement park ride, that's 4 Gs.
    • by blantonl (784786) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:40AM (#20022543) Homepage
      It probably is a "pull string go boom" situation for the launch.

      HOWEVER... when something goes wrong and manual intervention is required (such as a breakaway), then there are provisions to have the shuttle land at emergency designated airfields. If you are three-sheets to the wind, and you are now forced to execute a procedure that you've never done before, under high stress conditions, then there is going to be a problem.

      If you look at all the different emergency landing sites below, you'll see there is a lot of work and split second decisions to be made during launch:

      http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/facility/sts-e ls.htm [globalsecurity.org]

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        It's great to see hundreds of slashtards posting about something they know nothing of. There are very few situations that the pilot and crew have not already seen in the simulator. They have the simulator for a reason. Every survivable abort profile is practiced. If you read the report instead of listened to the bullshit on CNN, you'd have seen that the problem is not Alcohol, it's high intensity people who routinely work to the limits. They're largely drawn from military pilots and they act just the same.
        • Thank you. I for one would probably HAVE to have a good buzz on to let someone seal me into a tin can strapped to a giant bomb.
        • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Saturday July 28, 2007 @04:10PM (#20025665) Homepage Journal
          Um, excuse me Mr. "Military Pilot", but in this case we're not talking about pilots who "had a toast the night before going flying", but rather about astronauts who the flight surgeon said were too drunk to fly but who were cleared for takeoff anyway.

          I don't think these cases say anything about the quality of the astronauts as much as describe how the wheels are coming off over at NASA. Ultimately, you've got a bunch of first-rate scientists and extremely brave and talented pilots who are stuck in a program that's become the poor stepchild of our government. NASA is caught between malicious neglect and hostility against science.

          After all, the Apollo program was a demonstration of something that a government can do better than anyone else, and the people in power at the moment hate government. If it was up to them, the entire space program would consist of private industry racing to grab parts of space in order to make a ton of money. I know this is heresy to the "free market capitalist radicals" but there are some things in this world that are too important to put in the hands of private industry looking to make a profit.

          We're seeing an effort to dismantle the space program while still looking like macho cowboys. Think of how far that $1 trillion that we've flushed down the Iraq War Commode could have gone if applied to research and exploration. We may still have space exploration, if only to provide tax havens for multinational megacorps and marketing opportunities for pharmaceutical companies.

          If someone would have told me in 1972 that Apollo 17 was going to be the last mission to the moon in over 35 years I never would have believed it. But to the trifecta of Nixon, Reagan and Bush, the space program was too much "big government" and instead they plowed their huge deficits into Cold War I (the Global War on Communism) and Cold War II (aka the "Global War on Terror"). Unless they had found oil on the Moon they weren't going to bother. Nowadays, I think there's the added difficulty for the current anti-science administration of the Space Program being just a little too "secular", if you know what I mean. Face it, you can't be sending men into space when you're trying to convince everyone the world is flat.
        • by GPSguy (62002) on Sunday July 29, 2007 @01:44AM (#20029609) Homepage
          I'm not a military pilot (just a spam-can jockey) but I did take the training for NASA Flight Surgeon, and I spent 7 years at Johnson Space Center.

          I'm signing on here to agree with our Pilot. The pilots and commanders are well-trained, and prepared for anything they're likely to encounter. And, taking note of a GNC puke below, I have heard the same response to the 3-3ngine abort scenario. I wonder if we worked there at the same time. Remember the Russian Shuttleski? They did an auto-land, and the cosmonauts were less than pleased at not getting to do anything but go along for the ride. Don't blame them.

          While I was involved in crew training for a couple of experiments, I worked with a lot of crews. I worked with them enough that I often was invited to go "out for a beer" at the end of the workday. Most of the time, the "beer" tasted a lot like iced tea of Coca Cola, and there was just enough time to let them wind down so they could drive home and not overload their families. One particular exception stands out: He had 3 kids in Scouts and was out on-time every evening, without fail. He had to take care of his kids and did a stellar job of it.

          Did anyone mention that the typical training profile for the Commander, Pilot and Mission Specialist 3 (flight crew) is typically a 13 month period from designation/selection for flight, of 13 hour days, six days a week? I agree with Dr. John Clarke. I was, and remain, much more concerned about sleep deprivation and overwork than whether they had one beer or two at the barbequeue, or a beer in crew quarters. (For what it's worth, while there are a lot of creature comforts in crew quarters, it's still pretty sparse and the variety of company is pretty slim. Maybe a beer isn't such a bad idea, after all.)

          I'm not discounting the possibility that there are a couple of questionable characters. I think we've seen the result of what appears to be a change in the selection process for the worse... or, a failure of the peer process within the Astronaut Office to handle their own problems. I know that's how it used to work. And I know that it did work.
          • I'm not discounting the possibility that there are a couple of questionable characters. I think we've seen the result of what appears to be a change in the selection process for the worse... or, a failure of the peer process within the Astronaut Office to handle their own problems. I know that's how it used to work. And I know that it did work.

            It's strange that you would write four entire paragraphs DISPUTING the notion that there are any questionable characters among NASA's astronauts (based on your ever s

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        then there are provisions to have the shuttle land at emergency designated airfields. If you are three-sheets to the wind, and you are now forced to execute a procedure that you've never done before, under high stress conditions

        1. Astronaut Pilots spend day after day in the simulator to go through every possible failure scenario imaginable.

        2. You've contradicted yourself.
        "there are provisions" and "execute a procedure that you've never done before" are mutually exclusive statements. If "there are provisions" for a problem during launch, then the astronauts have practiced it over and over.

        Not to mention that all pilots are graduates of either the Air Force or Navy Test Pilot School and heck, many of the mission specialists are for

      • I'm sure it's all automated by now. The take off, and landing. Any manual things that pilot has to do is there solely for the purpose of make-work (like...extending the landing gears---which will also likely be done automatically if pilot forgets).

        Systems -have- to be designed such that pilots could be unconscious.

        In either case, in case of an emergency during take off or landing... you BETTER be drunk, 'cause you're screwed either way. How many survivable accidents during landing/takeoff has there been?

        Tha
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:27AM (#20022913)
      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.

      Oh - and Frenchy's sandwiches were FANTASTIC!!! I miss them. I worked in a building across NASA Rd. 1 behind the Shipley's donuts and had lunch at Frenchy's 2-3 times a month. Also check out the Seabrook Classic Cafe when you're down that way - Tuesday was Chicken Fried Chicken special day!
    • You do realize that a shuttle trip requires astronauts to do more than just sit and stare at the autopilot?
      Think about any work or school project you ever worked on. How are things as the deadline approaches? On even simple things there is always stress near the end. Now.. imagine you're being launched into the sky with millions of dollars worth of projects at stake and any mistake you make could potentially kill everyone.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by enmane (805543)

      My impression is that the Shuttle either gets to orbit on auto-pilot, entirely computer controlled, or it explodes. It's not like anyone is "steering" the thing manually, or pushing buttons in carefully timed sequences.


      EXACTLY - a _perfect_ reason to be drunk when a rocket is strapped to your @$$
    • Its just like flying anything - its a very graceful process punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Talk to any pilot - they will tell you this is true.

      Also I'm sure there are emergency situations where having your wits about you would be a major plus, for instance if you aborted the launch before orbit (which they can do).
  • by sexybomber (740588) <boccilino@@@gmail...com> on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:31AM (#20022489)
    "You think I'm going up in that thing sober?"
    • Considering that, on average, they have a 1 in 50 chance of going "BOOM!" or other disaster, and that the shuttle fleet ain't getting any younger ...

      NASA originally estimated the odds of a disaster as being as low as 1 in 100,000. Even their current "guestimate" of 1 in 100 is off by half.

      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        Even their current "guestimate" of 1 in 100 is off by half.

        Not necessarily -- there haven't been enough missions to prove or disprove their current estimate. Let's say you have a 1 in 10,000 estimated chance of getting in a car accident on a given trip. You drive to the store, get in an accident. Next day, someone crashes into your rental car. Does this make cars 100% likely to crash? No.

        -b.

        • by tomhudson (43916)

          The best "current guess" is 1 in 76 [celestialdelights.info]

          Actual performance is 1 in 56. Either one is a LOT more realistic than what NASA originally claimed before the Challenger disaster, which was 1 in 100,000. That was even more ridiculous than those million-hour MTBF estimates for hard disks, when you consider that a million-hour MTBF drive that fails after 10,000 hours is off by 2 orders of magnitude, but NASA was off by more than 4 orders of magnitude.

          1 in 56 ... that's a heck of a lot less than 1 in 100,000.

          Then t

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by mollymoo (202721)
            An MTBF of 1 000 000 hours does not mean an average disk lasts 1 000 000 hours. Disks also have a lifetime rating - perhaps 25 000 hours for a consumer drive. The MTBF generally means that during the design lifetime, on average one disk will fail for every 1 000 000 hours of use. For a 25 000 hour lifetime, that means that 2.5% of drives will fail during their design lifetime, which is pretty close to the numbers I've seen in large-scale studies. After the design lifetime, all bets are off. No drive will la
      • by bhodikhan (894485) *
        Actually as I recall the original design determined the odds to be 1 in 25 flights. Which as we've seen was a good estimate unfortunately.
        • by tomhudson (43916)
          Your memory is close - the original design called for no more than 25 flights per shuttle, with a fleet of 8 shuttles to be rotated. This was changed to 100 flights per shuttle, with a fleet of 4, to justify the "lowered costs" of shuttle missions, which has proven wildly optimistic. Turns out that it was cheaper to use expendable boosters.
          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            If they really wanted to make things safe for the astronauts, they would have designed a ship specifically to carry people, and only people. Then, launch them into space, and launch the cargo on a separate cargo/heavy lifter rocket. Instead they designed the shuttle which isn't optimal for carrying people, or cargo, and hence, is terrible at both.
        • by CastrTroy (595695)
          However, if the odds are 1 in 100,000, and you do 56 missions, what are the odds that one of those will crash. It's about 1 in 1800 if my calculations are correct. That's .05%. Now, that's not highly likely, but it's not like it requires the Heart of Gold to obtain that kind of probability.
  • I really expected more from our astronauts. These guys were top of their classes their entire lives, why would they choose to drink right before the launch? Kinda seems like the worst time-- unless they're expecting things to go badly i guess, but i would rather be alert in ready in that situation.
    • by ianare (1132971)

      I really expected more from our astronauts.
      Yeah me too. By now I thought for sure we would get reports of the first drunken orgy in space!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I really expected more from our astronauts. These guys were top of their classes their entire lives, why would they choose to drink right before the launch? Kinda seems like the worst time-- unless they're expecting things to go badly i guess, but i would rather be alert in ready in that situation.

      Probably for the same reason you expect actors and pop stars to be always slim, perfect skin and really hot. So when you see them without make-up, it's some sort of rationale to laugh at them.

      Well, we're all peopl
      • by SolusSD (680489)
        NO! SHUTUP! Astronauts to _not_ pee! that is insulting!
        but really-- what i'm getting at is... if i spent my entire life preparing for those days i get in space i wouldn't fuck it up drinking and getting _drunk_ right before the launch. Within the 12 hours before the launch is just _stupid_.
      • This AC is right on track. It is an awfully tough job, requires years and years of training. And then you have to get into this tiny little capsule and do not have much to do unless something goes wrong! Imagine having trained for something for 5-6 years and having waited 5-6 years for the flight, and then finally, you are about to ride on a massive mostly-uncontrolled explosion... Only if something goes wrong, you get to do something! Your fate is in the hands of others and of nature.

        Personally, I know

    • Re:character (Score:4, Informative)

      You don't know a lot about fighter jocks, do you? Read Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff", and this story immediately becomes a lot less puzzling.
    • :) You don't know much about pilot's then do you?

      These guys may be proffessionals, but they also tend to have A-type personalities, and that includes "the rules don't apply to me because I'm a pro" attitude to go along with it.

      Besides alcohol is the least of NASA's worries, most of these guys probably don't sleep for a day or two before launch due to the excitement/stress level they're under. Personally I'll take the guy that's a little on the drunk side, but who has been sleeping all week over the gu

  • NASA-holes (Score:2, Funny)

    by ianare (1132971)
    What's next at NASA, a crazy love triangle [bbc.co.uk]? Oh wait ...
  • You never know if you'll come out of it alive. Party on. Heh, in marriage you don't want to come out of it alive..."Till death do us part"?
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:39AM (#20022533)
    Paris Hilton and Nicohol Richie could pass a flight medical test? What's next Keith Richards passing a flight readness test?
    • What's next Keith Richards passing a flight readness test?
      As long as there are no coconut palms on board the ship he'd probably do alright.
    • by Artifakt (700173)
      Keith doesn't need a shuttle.
    • by GPSguy (62002)
      Obviously you've not kept up on the latest memoranda. A Flight Readiness Review is a management and Operations team review certifying that all the paperwork and preparations have been appropriately completed for the mission. By the time you get to the FRR, you know what the result will be... you don't schedule an FRR until you know it's a foregone conclusion.

      Richards would have to get past the t-21day flight physical, the t-14 day physical and the launch day medical check.
  • by uncamarty (245075) <ook&iprimus,com,au> on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:43AM (#20022573)
    FTA: "A panel member said Wednesday the report was still in draft form..."
    Me, I'd prefer the bottled version...
    Of course, I'd have to read it quickly, because of the 12 hour "throttle the bottle" rule. Dang - got that the wrong way around again!
  • by 3seas (184403) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:44AM (#20022587) Journal
    ... human.

    It does not matter if you are an illegal alien residing in the US, a lawyer, a carpenter, a musician, a doctor, a nuclear reactor operator, a judge, a member of clergy, a CEO at a super major company, a richest man or second richest man, the ruler of a country...etc...

    we are all capable of being stupid, dishonest and deadly. Usually its a choice!
    • That's why we need to send more robots and less people in space mission. Opportunity and Spirit are still sober after all these Martian days.
      • Seriously, why on earth do we spend considerably more for manned missions than unmanned, while the unmanned yield so much more truly valuable science? We've *been* beyond our solar system folks. Wake up already.

        Also, every thing costs. It is sooo much cheaper to send only sensors, or returnable capsules with our critical zero-G experiments. Why afford the human costs? (and space is a hostile environment).

        And Bush's silly pitch to Mars. Why so soon? It'll wait until we get our act together.

        I vote robotic sen
  • Harsh reality. Couldn't they send half the crew up passed-out and they wouldn't know what hit them in case of an explosion? Or are they _all_ doing crucial pre-flight check-offs?

    But you have to figure a case of the twirlies in space will be a future CIA "harsh interrogation" technique.
    • by uncamarty (245075)
      No, lets take this further...
      Half the problem with starting a tourists-in-space is the cost and weight penalty of the couches/chairs for the passengers. Here's my solution:

      First, you get the tourists drunker than a parrot on a bender,
      Next, load the blighters into a container, then into the cargo bay with a forklift,
      Once in orbit, use the handy-dandy-remote-controlled-arm-thingy to swing the container out to docking position with the Hilton-in-the-Sky Hotel that's been handily placed there...
      Wait until the
      • or even cheaper, lace the booze with LSD, put them in a box with a window, shake it a bit in a dark warehouse and then hold a giant photo of earth from orbit against the window.

        The chumps would be too tripped out to realise the difference.

  • Obligatory (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Ever fly the shuttle... ON WEED??
  • by sayfawa (1099071) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:52AM (#20022657)
    If I were in charge they would get punished hard. As in torture. yeah, that's right, torture. First I'd give them poison. Some kind that would give them a splitting headache, as if their brain is too big for their skulls. Then I'd surround them with some ear-splitting noise, not unlike the sound of rockets launching. Finally I'd give them some nausea inducing experience. Like how when you're on a plane and the altitude drops suddenly making you "weightless" for a second. But I'd make it last several days.

    Yeah, that'd learn 'em not to get drunk before a shuttle mission.

    Oh wait.
  • The reason they can't fly the shuttle drunk is because they didn't learn to fly the shuttle drunk. I say get them plastered and put them in the simulator.
    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      The reason they can't fly the shuttle drunk is because they didn't learn to fly the shuttle drunk. I say get them plastered and put them in the simulator.
      They don't actually fly the shuttle at all, so what's the difference?
      • by S.O.B. (136083)

        They don't actually fly the shuttle at all, so what's the difference?

        Ah, it was a joke.
    • by Nyeerrmm (940927)
      Sounds like a good game for the JSC Christmas party.
  • On Friday, the panel released some details of the drinking allegations, but emphasized that they were anecdotal and had not been corroborated. [...]

    At a news conference here Friday, the panel's chairman, Colonel Bachmann, said via telephone hookup that the reason the anecdotal references to the drinking incidents were included in the report that the panel delivered to NASA was not to suggest that the agency necessarily had an alcohol problem, but to emphasize the importance of heeding flight surgeons.

    T

  • BlameRussia
  • I thought they launch from Florida. What does it matter what some restaurant owner in Houston says about how much astronauts drink while off-duty? Or do they travel from Houston to then cape less than 12 hours before launch?
  • I highly doubt that the crew members responsible for controlling the shuttle were plastered. If they were, then that's a problem.

    As for the rest of them, so what? Given NASA's history, I'd need to get a little drunk to get the nerve to board the shuttle.
    • I agree, especially when there are people who are sabotaging flight equipment! Who would do that and why??

      Here is a link [npr.org] to the story.

    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      I highly doubt that the crew members responsible for controlling the shuttle were plastered. If they were, then that's a problem.

      Given that the crew members responsible for controlling the shuttle are multiple redundant computers, I'm fairly certain they don't drink at all. The STS is a damn self-driving bus. The only problems it's ever had were major structural failures that no amount of "piloting" could have avoided. I say give everyone a valium and a shot of tequila before loading 'em in the shuttle, so if something horrifyingly bad happens again, they can just lie back, relax, and wait for the end in comfort.

  • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:13AM (#20022805)
    This could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse.
    If those astronauts were drinking Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, the shit really would have hit the fan.
    • Who the hell comes back and mods overrated nearly two weeks after posted? And overrated too, yeah, way to not submit yourself to metamod, jackass, because that would definitely be rated unfair by anyone with a brain and a functioning sense of humor, which you obviously do not have. I know no one will ever read this, I just felt like saying, if whoever modded this ever comes back, you're a total loser. Seriously, save your points for something that matters.
  • It's okay, man. If there's one thing I know, it's how to drive when I'm stoned. It's like, you know your perspective's fucked, so you just gotta let your hands work the controls as if you're straight.

  • by freeweed (309734) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:20AM (#20022871)
    I don't know exactly how to phrase this, but...

    It seems to me that so far it's been NASA's completely sober management decisions that have killed astronauts and lost shuttle equipment.

    I'll start panicing about the astronauts having a few when they actually start affecting things. Makes me wonder just what kind of actually scary info is coming down the pipe from NASA, that they have to whip everyone into a frenzy with a story about OMG DRUNK ASTRONAUTS!!1
    • I'll start panicing about the astronauts having a few when they actually start affecting things.
      One of the major lessons of Challenger was that it is a very bad idea to wait until a problem starts to actually affect things before taking corrective action.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by _Sprocket_ (42527)

      Makes me wonder just what kind of actually scary info is coming down the pipe from NASA, that they have to whip everyone into a frenzy with a story about OMG DRUNK ASTRONAUTS!!1

      I doubt its anything so calculated. It's simply a reflection of NASA's culture. NASA is hyber-sensitive about "safety." Anything that even has the appearance of causing death or injury gets a lot of attention. It is a part of an overall "safety" culture NASA management is trying to foster; the idea being that keeping safety in mind with even little things creates a pervasive mindset that helps avoid big accidents as well. Part of that cultural push is the concept that anyone can bring to light issues

      • by Bahumat (213955)
        I work for a safety management company, so I'm really getting a kick out of these replies, etc.

        But seriously. Let me hit the fallacy straight on the head here: Sometimes it seems like a lot of work for questionable return.

        Any, any safety management system, any safety culture, lives by the motto of "What gets measured gets managed."

        A safety culture is a very important thing in any industry, and most importantly, the statistics speak for themselves: Industry rates for lost time accidents are typically one thi
        • by _Sprocket_ (42527)

          Safety culture is not only safer, but it saves a company huge amounts of money, and ends up being more profitable, in both the short and long term.

          I'm actually rather supportive of a safety culture. Doing things safely is also doing things right. It's the mark of a true professional. And like the goofy posters say "safety is no accident." It takes some self discipline and knowledge to do things right. And I'm confident that the overall outcome of such discipline is positive.

          Having said that - we are also talking about NASA's culture. This is "safety culture" meets bureaucratic insanity. That's where I start getting critical. It's not the "saf

  • Who wouldn't? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fishthegeek (943099) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:34AM (#20022979) Journal
    1. 2 Solid state rockets at 3,300,000 Lbs of thrust each.
    2. Odds of dying on a shuttle mission are about 1:100
    3. The shuttles are at or over 20 years old.
    4. 2.5 million individual parts on a space shuttle.
    5. Knowledge that the shuttle was made by the lowest bidders.
    6. You're on it.

    Who the hell wouldn't need a drink to get through the work day in those conditions!
    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @11:11AM (#20023237) Homepage Journal
      If it helps, the orbiters are among the safest vehicles on a per passenger mile basis. It doesn't help that it moves at nearly 18,000 miles per hour though, picking up over 100k passenger miles an hour, so you really clock up the miles on a mission.
    • by clubhi (1086577)
      The shuttle was most certainly not made by the lowest bidders. Perhaps this is the situation in your relationship to NASA, but I can assure you I have won contracts with NASA where I was at the top end of the bidding spectrum. Some of their project managers are very intelligent people, and know how to get the most bang for the buck.
    • There have only been 118 shuttles launched, two haven't returned. So the odds of dying in the shuttle are actually 1 in 59.

      It's no wonder these guys wanted a drink before takeoff. But that in no way justifies NASA letting them drink before takeoff. The really troubling part is that to be drunk at take-off, they must have done their drinking in the locked down, pre-flight crew quarters. WTF?

      Personally, I'm troubled by the reports that many of our astronauts are very heavy drinkers. I'm no tea totaler, but I don't drink on the job either. These guys and gals are not college kids, most are in their 30's, 40's and 50's. If they still feel the need to go out partying every night, maybe they should find another profession.

      There are THOUSANDS of people in line for each of their jobs. Astronauts are supposed to be the best of the best. The culling process is supposed to be brutal. These revelations make NASA's astronaut selection process look a lot like an "old boys network".

      Blue collar workers are routinely given drug and alcohol tests. Employees of our Intelligence Agencies are not given clearances if they are found to be heavy drinkers, even off the job. It seems to me that astronauts should be held to at least the standards of truck drivers, and should probably be held to the higher standards of our Intelligence Agency workers.

      There are tens of thousands of Americans who would jump at the chance to be an astronaut. Very few would have a problem making it to work sober.
  • DUI (Score:4, Funny)

    by skogula (931230) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:50AM (#20023083)
    So, are we going to see extradition papers come in so they can face DUI charges in every country they flew over?
    • by tftp (111690)
      No, since they are all just passengers. If you doubt that, ask yourself if astronauts can steer to fly over Portugal or over Greece when they are in the area. If they can't steer they are not in control.
  • Well, the reliability of the shuttles are only marginally better than the Japanese flying bombs of WWII, so I don't blame them...
  • Bunk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@HORSEop ... minus herbivore> on Saturday July 28, 2007 @11:03AM (#20023183) Journal

    All I can say is, FUD of the highest order. No astronaut in his/her right mind (Nowak notwithstanding) would be drunk on launch day. There are dozens of abort scenarios a Shuttle astronaut has to be ready for if something goes wrong and no astronaut would jeopardize their safety and the safety of their crewmates by being less than 100% ready to go. I also don't believe for a second that any Shuttle commander would let someone fly on their crew if they were inebriated.

    NASA bashing has now become a fashionable side profession for some, especially with the emergence of private space flight ventures. Say what you will about NASA management (and there's plenty I'd like to say!) but they do the best they can with what they're given and it's only pressure from the US Government combined with a desire to return to the glory days that pushes them into decisions that can be called questionable. Hubris may play a role, but not as big a role as the constant need to justify their existence to a public that has become blasé about spaceflight.

    • by Renraku (518261)
      Maybe all this is happening for a reason. You know, a reason for our government to say, "Well NASA costs too much money and all they do is sit around drinking..we spend billions so we can have a few hammered pilots in space." before dissolving NASA and selling its assets to the highest bidder.

      Bush has quite a few days left, and he/his cronies could very well be up to this.
    • by hawkfish (8978)

      All I can say is, FUD of the highest order. No astronaut in his/her right mind (Nowak notwithstanding) would be drunk on launch day. There are dozens of abort scenarios a Shuttle astronaut has to be ready for if something goes wrong and no astronaut would jeopardize their safety and the safety of their crewmates by being less than 100% ready to go. I also don't believe for a second that any Shuttle commander would let someone fly on their crew if they were inebriated.

      I'm not even sure it is physically possi

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's hard to even imagine such a thing.

    Why, it's as hard to imagine as a President's once being a cocaine user, a Tour de France winner using hormones, or a major evangelical pastor having had sex with a male prostitute.
  • by cyclone96 (129449) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @11:13AM (#20023255)
    Reading the text of the actual report here [nasa.gov] the phrase used by the report is "preflight" alcohol use and "flight safety". It's not specific to a shuttle mission.

    Keep in mind that astronauts do most of their "flying" in T-38's (two seaters that are often likened to "astronaut taxis"). It's quite possible that the specific incidents revolve around T-38 use. The image of an astronaut strapping into the shuttle after violating alcohol policy (which is much tighter on aircraft than cars) is almost unbelievable. It is not as much of a stretch to image someone who closed down a bar on Cocoa Beach the night before being tossed into the back seat of a T-38 at 8 AM to get them home with a sober pilot up front. Of course, this is still a safety risk (what if you have to eject?) and a violation of policy. There would be fewer people around that would notice as well since now you are talking about a couple of astronauts and maybe some airfield guys instead of the entire world watching.

    I'm not saying that was what happened, but probably there has not been enough detail released to make a real judgment on what really went on (other than the local on-scene leadership overruled objections by flight surgeons and other astronauts on safety, which is I believe was the point the report was trying to get to).
    • by vought (160908)
      Thanks for making one of the most cogent and insightful posts about this entire hullabaloo. As a previous poster said, NASA bashing has become rather fashionable, and the inflammatory statements in the media and here at slashdot ("drunk" pilots, assuming that someone was drinking immediately before launch, etc.) put the whole thing in a sensational light.

      To remind everyone: we're talking about detectable amounts of alcohol in the blood of someone on the shuttle. This is not a case of drunk pilots or mission
    • Keep in mind that astronauts do most of their "flying" in T-38's (two seaters that are often likened to "astronaut taxis"). It's quite possible that the specific incidents revolve around T-38 use.

      Some commentary from aerospace engineer Rand Simberg's Transterrestrial Musings [transterrestrial.com] seems to partially confirm this:

      I haven't said anything about the "drunk astronauts" story, but I do think that it epitomizes the atrocious state of reporting on space (and any technical subject), in which it becomes sensationalized and
      • It's from Channel 4 News, made by ITN.

        Also, while the recorded part made up the "Shuttle" bit, James Oberg didn't exactly come over clearly when asked the direct question "well what is the story then?".

        Perhaps if NASA had more understanding of how the news media would react to a report like this we wouldn't have this "story"?
  • To see how blood alcohol affects us in microgravity. They need to know about it because of the Mars/Moon missions. Or do you think they won't take any alcohol in the Mission to Mars or in the moon base?!
  • by Frosty Piss (770223) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @12:13PM (#20023689)
    There's a lot of talk about this drinking business, but let's take a look here: Anonymous reports about non-specific astronauts. It's not really all that credible. Sounds more like sour grapes from some jealous worker bee.
  • This isn't really new. After all, Ted Striker [imdb.com] had a little, ... "drinking problem", too,... He still managed to land his aircraft, ... in both movies!

    "Jimmy, you ever seen a grown astronaut naked?"

  • As an air traffic controller and pilot who has spent many years interacting with both, I can assure you that the role alcohol plays a big role in many aviation circles. No, I didn't say that every scopedope, swivelhead, and jet jock drink before, during or after. But alcohol is often a major part of the social fabric whenever these types congregate.

    We used to work the NASA T38s from Houston when they would come up for approach practice in East Texas. Every pilot/astronaut we worked was the consummate prof

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