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Tue, Feb 27, 2007

NASA Has Detailed Procedure For Troubled Astronauts In Orbit

Nowak Incident Sheds Light On 2001 Checklist

Astronaut Lisa Nowak's recent apparent breakdown has prompted some to wonder what would happen if a similar type of behavioral problem occurred in space. As Aero-News reported, Nowak was arrested this month on charges she planned to kidnap the woman she regarded as a threat to a relationship.

NASA does, indeed, have written procedures for situations involving a psychotic astronaut in space.

According to the Associated Press, should an astronaut exhibit behaviors that threaten themselves or someone else, crew members should "bind the wrists and ankles with duct tape, tie him down with a bungee cord and inject tranquilizers if necessary." The instructions go on to say, "Talk with the patient while you are restraining him. Explain what you are doing, and that you are using a restraint to ensure that he is safe."

NASA spokesman James Hartsfield told the AP a flight surgeon on the ground, NASA and the commander in space would decide whether to abort the flight. The group would also decide whether to send the astronaut home, if the incident occurred on the International Space Station.

Dr. Patricia Santy, a former NASA psychiatrist and author of the book "Choosing the Right Stuff," said there are no good studies of astronauts' stress levels or how they adapt psychologically to space.

"What astronaut is going to tell you they're feeling homicidal?" she asked. "They're very conscious that if they say the wrong thing they could get grounded."

The procedural checklist for the space station was drawn up in 2001, and also includes procedures for dealing with medical situations. New procedures have been drawn up for the space shuttle but have not been released yet, according to Hartsfield, pending reviews by NASA attorneys.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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