Science & Tech Committee Will Look Further Into Astronauts' Health (Rep. Bart Gordon)

Last Friday (7/27/07), NASA released the findings of a review of NASA's procedures for overseeing astronauts' medical and behavioral health, commissioned in the wake of the scandal involving former astronaut Lisa Nowak.

When I got word of these findings a day before their release via the industry publication Aviation Week, I made it clear that the Committee would be looking for further explanation and details from NASA on the review's disturbing findings.

Upon review of the actual report, my mind was not eased as to the situation. There's a lot of attention being given to the reports of alcohol abuse by astronauts prior to flight, and I take this very seriously.  Drinking and driving is never a good idea - least of all when the vehicle involved is a multi-billion dollar Space Shuttle or a high performance jet aircraft.

But it's not just alcohol abuse; you only have to read the report to know that something clearly seems to be broken in NASA's system of astronaut oversight.  I hope the agency will take the review team seriously, and not just fall back on the tired bromide that the review team's findings are 'unproven allegations.'  Reports of drunken astronauts are just a part of the story - the review team's report contains a number of other findings that are cause for concern.

Among many alarming findings in the report, the review board found that "astronaut medical and behavioral health care is highly fragmented..."  Also, "many anecdotes were related that involved risky behaviors by astronauts that were well known to the other astronauts and no apparent action was taken.  Peers and staff fear ostracism if they identify their own or others' problems."

Rest assured that the House Science and Technology Committee, which I chair, will continue looking into this matter.  We are currently planning an initial hearing for the first week of September when the House reconvenes.