While smoking and drinking in many places and under many circumstances have been severely limited by local and state regulations, NASA has surprised the world by permitting cigarette and alcoholic beverages during space missions on board its space craft. It all started when we did internal surveys among the astronauts said Evan Byer, senior anthropologist at NASA. Fully 90% of them either smoked or didn’t mind it when their fellow astronauts smoked or drank, even, I might add, during a mission!
NASA now plans to install ashtrays in all space craft in time for their next mission. It came as quite a surprise to most people that astronauts have been smoking and drinking during many space shots. This goes back even to the program’s earliest days when Alan Shepard, our first astronaut, was retrieved from his space capsule and beer bottles and cigarette butts tumbled out when the capsule’s airlock doors were opened on that historic first mission
These changes have been driven largely by the difficulty in finding qualified non-smoking astronauts. One of the qualifications during astronaut training includes the ability to run through a smoke filled metal tunnel during a fire emergency. Invariably, non smoking astronaut wannabes fail miserably in this part of their training. NASA believed it was time to permit smoking facilities on all space craft. The scientific community is divided on this issue, however. Scientists from the tobacco industry have applauded this decision while many others from such organizations as Green Peace and the The Sierra Club were horrified.
Dr. Wildo Magestfield, a noted pet vegetarian food flavor chemist, was quoted as saying, This is off the chart insane! What happens if one of the astronauts flicks a butt out of the space craft in outer space during earth orbit and it enters the earth’s atmosphere and lands right in the middle of a redwood forest? 2,000 years of primeval trees go up in smoke!
Others in the scientific community, particularly those at NASA, have a different take. Virginia Hamm, Ph. D. , a well known psychologist, has stated that the stress and strains of long missions in space could be alleviated, to an extent, by permitting both smoking and drinking during a mission. Why take the chance of losing a $50 billion dollar space shuttle because an astronaut has nicotine withdrawal or delirium tremens while in space? And even if a forest does burn down, so what? There are plenty of forests left over! The earth is a really big place with lots of forests, not a small blue marble as it appears on TV during a space mission.
NASA’s plans are to install specially outfitted vending machines that dispense cigarettes and beer inside the space capsule located next to the Autopilot Safety Control System (APSCS). Of course, the astronauts will have to pay for it with quarters. The US Federal Government is not in the business of giving away free beer and cigarettes to anyone. The next space shot is scheduled in the late spring and will be equipped with enough brew and smokes to make anyone happy.
It is expected that each astronaut, in addition to their scientific paraphernalia, will also be carrying over 40 lbs. of quarters in each pocket of their jump suits. However, there is a small, yet growing number of astronauts that feel NASA has not gone far enough. Several in the program have voiced concerns that there are some in the program that neither drink nor smoke (cigarettes), but do on occasion, enjoy a joint or two. This begs the question,
What about them? We expect that NASA will eventually cave in to this, as well because while marijuana is illegal virtually everywhere in the US, outer space is outside the borders of the U. S. Until then, it’s just wait and see.