Press Release

NASA Moves Forward With Astronaut Assessments

By SpaceRef Editor
July 27, 2007
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NASA Moves Forward With Astronaut Assessments

WASHINGTON – NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said the agency is moving forward to implement many of the recommendations contained in two studies released Friday about astronaut health and behavioral assessments.

The two reviews were made public prior to a news conference in Washington, five months after the agency requested that an independent external committee conduct a comprehensive review of health services available to astronauts. Both studies were initiated in the aftermath of the arrest in February of former astronaut Lisa Nowak.

The first assessment of astronaut behavioral medicine procedures, an internal review, was completed by NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, earlier this week. The second assessment, a broader review by outside experts called the Astronaut Health Care System Review Committee, was organized by NASA Chief Health and Medical Officer Dr. Richard Williams.

“The review committee, chaired by Air Force Col. Richard Bachmann, commander of the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, completed a valuable task on short notice and I would like to acknowledge the group’s dedication and time commitment to this important review,” Dale said. “We are committed to improving the behavioral care and assessment procedures for astronauts.”

“We believe the resulting modifications will be good for the astronaut corps and for NASA.”

Dale said NASA immediately will address four primary areas of concern:

NASA Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance Bryan O’Connor, a former astronaut, began an extensive examination Friday focusing on allegations of improper alcohol use. O’Connor will review all existing policies and procedures related to alcohol use and astronaut medical fitness prior to flight. The goal is to ensure that risks to flight safety are dealt with by appropriate authorities, and, if necessary, elevated through a transparent system of senior management review and accountability.

NASA’s Medical Policy Board, made up of senior internal and external medical experts, will further assess the medical and behavioral findings and recommendations in the two reviews. The board will institute behavioral health assessments as a part of annual flight physicals for all astronauts.

The agency will develop an astronaut code of conduct and has engaged NASA’s astronaut corps to help develop the formal guidelines. The astronauts already have started to develop an initial set of recommendations and agency leadership will establish a collaborative process to create an official code.

To address organizational culture issues outlined in the reports, NASA will conduct a series of internal assessments, including anonymous surveys to be completed by astronauts and flight surgeons, to provide feedback and gather information. The goal is to improve communications and ensure leadership is responsive to concerns and complaints.

“We are moving as quickly as we can on the recommendations, and Administrator Mike Griffin and I will closely monitor progress on these issues,” Dale added. “After the review is completed, it is our intention to share the findings with the public, to the maximum extent possible.”

For copies of the reports and a complete transcript and video of Friday’s news conference, visit the Internet at:

Related Links

NASA Fact Sheet on the Findings of the Astronaut Health Care System Review Committee

“The Next Steps: Some of the findings in the report, including those related to “heavy use of alcohol by astronauts in the immediate preflight period,” will require additional review by NASA. The committee did not provide NASA with specific details of the alleged incidents. As a result, NASA must independently determine the facts of the reported incidents.”

NASA JSC Internal Assessment of Medical Practices after Nowak Incident

“STS-121 crew flight surgeons were queried and did not note any indications of concern from pre-flight to in-flight to post-flight. Similar queries were made of the STS-116 (Commander Oefelein’s flight) crew flight surgeons, and again no indications of concern were noted. Her medical and behavioral health records were reviewed and there were again no indications of medical or psychological problems.”

NASA Astronaut Health Care System Review Committee February – June, 2007 Report to the Administrator

“Preparation for exploration class space flight requires NASA to focus much more attention on human behavior. Astronauts must be selected, trained, evaluated, monitored, and supported in order to be effective as individuals, and more importantly, so they can be effective members of a team that will be isolated and under great mental and physical stress for a period of several years before their return to Earth. NASA’s Astronaut Office and medical system should be structured to optimally execute that mission.”

Opening Remarks on Astronaut Health Reports by NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale

“Mike Griffin and I will closely monitor progress on these issues. After the review is completed, it is our intention to share the findings with the public, to the maximum extent possible.”

SpaceRef staff editor.