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NASA HIT BY DOUBLE TROUBLE

A report of drinking and sabotage are the agency's latest woes.

NASA allowed at least two astronauts to fly into space even though they were so drunk that flight surgeons considered them a safety risk, according to a report published Thursday by a trade journal.

Aviation Week & Space Technology reported that an independent health panel commissioned by NASA also found a pattern of "heavy use of alcohol" by astronauts before launch.

In another development, NASA disclosed Thursday that someone sabotaged a computer awaiting delivery in two weeks by shuttle Endeavour to the international space station, cutting wires and inflicting other damage.

Bill Gerstenmaier, an associate administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the sabotage did not endanger the shuttle or its crew, the unit was being repaired and a subcontractor's employee was responsible for the damage.

The device collects data from particular sensors aboard the space station. Even more worrisome, the same subcontractor also produces crucial leading edge wing sensors that are used aboard the shuttle.

But Gerstenmaier said those devices were unaffected and Endeavour's seven astronauts are scheduled for liftoff Oct. 7.

Officials would have caught the problem through testing before flight, even if the subcontractor had not alerted NASA beforehand, Gerstenmaier said.

The Aviation Week report did not include any details about which astronauts were drunk, which space programs were involved or how recently the problems occurred.

Gerstenmaier said no mission had ever been jeopardized by an intoxicated astronaut.

According to Aviation Week, the panel said that "on at least two occasions, astronauts were allowed to fly after flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so intoxicated that they posed a flight-safety risk."

"The panel also reported 'heavy use of alcohol' by astronauts before launch, within the standard 12-hour 'bottle to throttle' rule applied to NASA flight crew members," according to the account.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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