The US Air Force doctor who led an investigation which reported that NASA astronauts flew drunk has criticised the space agency's subsequent review, which concluded that he was wrong. Colonel Richard Bachmann also suggested that management attitudes indicated a culture of silence at NASA.
News agencies reported today that Bachmann described NASA language as unhelpful, saying that it was unwise to dismiss allegations of astronaut tipsiness as "urban legends."
"Public statements that such things are simply impossible, challenging the veracity of the findings, referring to them as unproven allegations or urban legends, rather than acknowledging how difficult raising such concerns can be, do not encourage openness and safety, make future reporting even less likely, and increase the risk of future mishaps or incidents," the Colonel told politicians in Washington.
Just because NASA personnel wouldn't reveal incidents of drunkenness or other problems to their own management didn't mean that such things had never occurred, he said; nor did it mean that his own report was inaccurate.
Indeed the Colonel suggested that the fact that NASA's investigation didn't agree with his meant that there were terrible problems within the space agency, worse than space aces drunk at the stick.
"We believe this may represent continued fear and barriers to communication and may be a cause for greater, not less concern," he said.
Bachmann's independent panel was convened after the arrest of astronaut Lisa Nowak, following her nappy-clad crosscountry odyssey and alleged attempt to mace and kidnap a younger rival for the attentions of her extramarital squeeze, space shuttle pilot Bill Oefelein. Nowak's legal team has filed psych documentation hinting that they may be considering a defence of temporary insanity.
Colonel Bachmann's probe found no further scandals of this sort among the 92 astronauts on flight status, indicating that in fact the space aces compare favourably in terms of lurid private life to other high-profile selective groups such as politicians. But Bachmann's group did report that there had been several cases of space crew drunk on launch day, though no details of name and date were given. It was said that concerns had been raised, but ignored by bosses.
NASA chief Michael Griffin said he jolly well wasn't running a culture of silence.
"One cannot prove a negative. I cannot prove that no one at NASA is afraid to speak up, but I hope that that's not the case," he said.
"If anyone at NASA is concerned about an immediate supervisor ... bring it to me ... I do deal with any concerns brought to me. I follow up."®