Opening Statement By Committee Chairman Bart Gordon - Hearing on Health Care of NASA Astronaut Corps


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Thank you, Chairman Udall, for yielding to me. I will be brief.

When NASA released the report of the independent review panel that examined NASA's astronaut health care system, it provoked a bit of a firestorm due to the report's references to astronauts and alcohol use.

Unfortunately, that firestorm has all but eclipsed what to me are some of the most important findings in the report - namely, the findings that indicate that flight surgeons and astronauts have faced difficulties in getting adequate attention paid to medical and behavioral problems. When I read statements in the report such as:

"Many anecdotes were related that involved risky behaviors by astronauts that were well known to the other astronauts and no apparent action was taken. Peers and staff fear ostracism if they identify their own or other's problems."

And "Instances were described where major crew medical or behavioral problems were identified to astronaut leadership and the medical advice was disregarded. This disregard was described as 'demoralizing' to the point where they are less likely to report concerns of performance decrement..."

...those statements trouble me.

Getting to the bottom of the concerns raised by the panel is what I think NASA leadership needs to focus its attention on. And in getting to the bottom of those concerns, I hope NASA will heed the advice contained in Col. Bachmann's written testimony:

"NASA must ensure that people can identify such safety and human performance concerns within NASA without fear of reprisal or career injury. Public statements that such things are simply impossible, challenging the veracity of these findings rather than acknowledging how difficult raising such concerns can be, do not encourage openness and safety."

To my way of thinking - and with all due respect to Administrator Griffin - disparaging a finding in the independent review panel's report as an "urban legend" doesn't do much to encourage that needed openness...especially when the chair of that same independent panel is prepared to testify that the finding is based on voluntary interviews with eyewitnesses to the incidents.

I hope NASA can move beyond such statements and instead turn its attention to giving the findings and recommendations of Col. Bachmann's panel the attention that they deserve.

He and his committee have done NASA and the nation a service in identifying a number of issues that need attention and in offering recommendations to improve NASA's astronaut health care system. NASA certainly doesn't have to agree with all of those findings and recommendations. But I hope that the agency will take them seriously.

We all recognize the bravery and dedication of nation's astronauts. We need to do our part to ensure that we give them the best astronaut medical and behavioral health care system possible. Thank you, and I yield back my time.

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