January 15, 2010

NASA Investigates Cocaine Found In Shuttle Hangar

NASA officials have launched an investigation after finding cocaine in a processing hangar for a space shuttle at Kennedy Space Center in Florida "” a violation of the zero-tolerance policy on drugs for all NASA employees, CNN reported.

The space agency released a statement saying a small amount of cocaine was found in a restricted area of the processing hangar for the shuttle Discovery at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, where six astronauts are due to blast off into orbit next month.

However, NASA said that the mission would not be affected.

"This is a rare and isolated incident, and I'm disappointed that it happened, but it should not detract from the outstanding work that is being done by a dedicated team on a daily basis," Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said in the statement.

Officials still want to know how cocaine got into a restricted area, and which of its workers or contractors breached a zero-tolerance policy on drugs.

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told the space.com website that there are no obvious indications of anyone acting oddly or under the influence.

"People know how serious this is and how serious people take it. And it's not acceptable. That's the bottom line," said Beutel.

An official report three years ago claimed that at least two astronauts had flown into space while drunk. NASA was then forced to deny allegations of alcohol-filled parties in crew quarters.

That resulted in strict new guidelines for the use of intoxicating substances among NASA's workforce and introduced drink and drugs testing for its astronauts and ground workers.

NASA's new chief, Charlie Bolden, a former astronaut who inherited control of the agency last summer, will likely have his hands full explaining the discovery of cocaine in a hangar where space shuttles are processed before flight.

Beutel said a worker, who immediately reported it to his superiors, spotted the bag that contained "Ëœa small amount' of cocaine outside a bathroom. An on-site test suggested that the powder inside the bag was cocaine, findings confirmed by subsequent examination.

On Wednesday, NASA began drug testing on all of its 200 workers and contractors that have access to the hangar.

It was the same hangar that processed the shuttle Discovery before its journey last week to the launch pad, where it stands ready to blast off to the International Space Station on February 7.

The Discovery's crew is scheduled to take supplies and construction materials to the orbiting outpost.

Cabana said there is no reason whatsoever to believe the incident would have any impact on Discovery's upcoming launch.


Image Caption: A crawler-transporter slowly moves space shuttle Endeavour from the Vehicle Assembly Building, lit up in the background, toward Launch Pad 39A. Photo credit: NASA/Amanda Diller


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