Friday, February 23, 2007

NASA's Contingency Plan

How would NASA deal with an unstable astronaut in space? Easy: Duct tape.

What would happen if an astronaut became mentally unstable in space and, say, destroyed the ship's oxygen system or tried to open the hatch and kill everyone aboard?

That was the question after the apparent breakdown of Lisa Nowak, arrested this month on charges she tried to kidnap and kill a woman she regarded as her rival for another astronaut's affections.

It turns out NASA has detailed, written procedures for dealing with a suicidal or psychotic astronaut in space. The documents, obtained this week by The Associated Press, say the astronaut's crewmates should bind his wrists and ankles with duct tape, tie him down with a bungee cord and inject him with tranquilizers if necessary.

"Talk with the patient while you are restraining him," the instructions say. "Explain what you are doing, and that you are using a restraint to ensure that he is safe."

The instructions do not spell out what happens after that. But NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said the space agency, a flight surgeon on the ground and the commander in space would decide on a case-by-case basis whether to abort the flight, in the case of the shuttle, or send the astronaut home, if the episode took place on the international space station.

Honestly I'm surprised, but in a good way. Here I thought that if NASA were to have some sort of contingency plan for a situation like this, it would involve some sort of restraint system that cost the US taxpayer tens of millions of dollars. But hey, if duct tape works, then use it.