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Dark days for NASA

July 27, 2007 By Daniel Cressey This article courtesy of Nature News.

Space agency hit by claims of theft, sabotage and drunkenness.

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NASA's reputation took a battering this week as the space agency's staff faced a range of misconduct allegations, including allowing astronauts to fly when drunk, the deliberate sabotage of a computer for a forthcoming shuttle flight, and failing to stop the loss of equipment worth nearly $100 million.

A new internal report produced by NASA reveals that astronauts have been allowed to fly when drunk. Information released ahead of the report's official unveiling, scheduled for the afternoon of 27 July, indicates that it will confirm that crew members were allowed to fly even though they were drunk enough to be a safety risk.

This computer, although assigned to me, was being used on board the International Space Station. I was informed that it was tossed overboard to be burned up in the atmosphere when it failed.
A NASA employee 'explains' the loss of his laptop.
It was not immediately clear whether the flights involved the space shuttle programme or other launches, or exactly when the incidents in question occurred. But commentators have expressed amazement and dismay at the prospect that any astronauts could have flown while drunk.

The report was apparently commissioned in the wake of another embarrassing episode for NASA — the arrest in February of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who was later charged with the attempted kidnapping of an alleged rival for the affections of a former colleague.

It also emerged this week that at least one act of sabotage has taken place in relation to a NASA mission scheduled for launch next month. Wires inside an electronic device destined for use on the International Space Station were deliberately cut. Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, told news agency reporters: "The damage is very obvious, easy to detect. It's not a mystery to us."

NASA's woes were compounded by yet another report, released by a US congressional watchdog, revealing that the agency has lost $94 million of equipment in the past decade. The Government Accountability Office blames "a weak internal control environment" for the losses.

'Unacceptable'

The losses are "unacceptable", says Bart Gordon, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology. "NASA needs to do a better job managing its property and equipment."

The report also accuses management of being unwilling to hold employees to account for losses. Excuses given for loss of computers included: "This computer, although assigned to me, was being used on board the International Space Station. I was informed that it was tossed overboard to be burned up in the atmosphere when it failed."

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