NASA Rocked by Scandals

This is a rush transcript from "The Big Story With John Gibson," July 27, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GERALDO RIVERA, "BIG STORY" GUEST HOST: A new NASA bombshell: astronauts liquored up at liftoff. An independent panel saying that the space agency let its crew members blast off into space wasted drunk on two separate occasions. We learned yesterday of another NASA scandal. One of its workers, a subcontractor actually, cut wires on a computer to sabotage the next shuttle flight due in two weeks. In the wake of the Lisa Nowak scandal, this is yet another black eye for NASA and its astronauts who are role models as you know for children everywhere. But even some Jedi nights can be pulled to the dark side. "Big Story" correspondent Douglas Kennedy takes a closer look at some of the men and women we're sending out of this world. Douglas?

DOUGLAS KENNEDY, "BIG STORY" CORRESPONDENT: Yeah Geraldo this has been scandal after scandal for NASA and many critics say the agencies recently turned the right stuff into the wrong stuff. But surprisingly some say it's the same stuff and has been going on for decades.


KENNEDY (VOICE-OVER): In the movies, John Glenn is portrayed as an astronaut patriot, a hero who can do no wrong.

JOHN GLENN: I just thank God I live in a country where the best and the finest in a man can be brought out.

KENNEDY: It seems a far cry from the recent scandals that have sent NASA spiraling. Drunken astronauts in space. Another astronaut losing her mind on the ground and incompetence everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it be that they have forgotten what the right stuff is?

3, 2, 1 and liftoff.

KENNEDY: It's a question many have been asking from Cape Canaveral to Capitol Hill. This man says yes, modern NASA may be dysfunctional but he says the space agency has always had edgy individuals who are natural risk takers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These were guys who were the jet jockeys of the day who were setting transcontinental speed records.

KENNEDY: Tom Jones is a former space flier and he may be right. In fact, in the book that coined the phrase "Right Stuff," the only astronaut who is not on the edge is Glenn. And in the movie he's certainly not the most likeable character.

Far more fun are the fly boys, like Chuck Yeager, Deke Slaton and Gordon Cooper. All hard-drinking, rule-breaking rebels.

And even in NASA's heyday, some of the so-called heroes cracked under pressure.

Bungled missions. And displayed their defects of character.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The stress on those individuals probably demanded that they find some outlet for it.

KENNEDY: Still, supporters and critics alike say the series of recent scandals have put NASA in unfamiliar position, namely losing the confidence of the American people. Both agreeing NASA needs to take action.

KEITH COVEN, NASA CRITIC: I think they really need to look at the way that the astronaut office is managed. And I think they also need to look at the way that they communicate with the public.

TOM JONES, FORMER ASTRONAUT: I think NASA needs to talk more about the astronauts' personalities and who these individuals are.


KENNEDY: Jones says NASA has had a policy of keeping its astronauts anonymous. He says the agency would do better to let the public get to know the individual personalities better. He says Geraldo, it's their humanity that really makes them heroes. That's it from here Geraldo, back to you.

RIVERA: Doug, thanks. But if you get close to them, you see their flaws as well.

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