Friday, July 27, 2007

Sauced in space

NASA is scurrying to do the politically correct thing after an independent panel convened after Lisa Nowak, the "astronut," pulled her little driving-with a diaper -- and various implements of potential destruction -- stunt in search of a romantic rival, found at least anecdotal evidence that on two occasions astronauts were drunk enough to have attracted the attention of others. They're promising to get to the bottom of this -- the panel wasn't empowered to do in-depth investigation, just collect preliminary evidence -- and to institute tighter anti-drinking policies and really enforce them this time.

What if it doesn't really matter that much? After all, most of a launch is automated and computerized, with the astronaut's job being mainly to sit in a glorified lounge chair and absorb G-forces. It isn't until well into a flight, perhaps when it's time for a space walk or docking, that real dexterity and judgment are required. I've never wanted to be an astronaut, but it's not hard to imagine thinking that if I were sitting with umpty-ump million pounds of force under my rear end and nothing much to do but hope it doesn't malfunction, that I would like to be a little fortified. In the old days, when most astronauts were former test pilots or combat veterans, they were a pretty hard-living and hard-drinking bunch -- and NASA was a successful and innovative agency instead of a bureaucratized fossil. Maybe there's no relationship, but ...

We're a lot more puritanical about alcohol in this country than 40 years or so ago, and I'm not sure we're the better for it. We're more aware of problem drinkers and alcoholism, to be sure, but also ready to see almost anybody who enjoys a drink now and then as a potential problem. It wouldn't hurt us to lighten up.

No comments: