In July 1957, preceding Sputnik, the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Committee arranged through the Rand Corp. in Los Angeles, Calif., to hold a 2-day conference to discuss the state of the art in jet propulsion and space technology. Representatives from NACA also attended the meeting. The life-sciences agenda for the meeting was prepared by Brig. Gen. Don Flickinger. Command Surgeon, ARDC, and Dr. Albert Hetherington, chief scientist on his staff.
Out of the meeting came the conclusion that, given vehicular reliability,
no additional life-sciences knowledge was needed for normal orbital flights.
Initial testing for environmental control and other comparable factors
could be accomplished within a period of 18 months. Indeed, the life sciences
appeared to pose no great problem at all. Rather, the greatest problem
concerned the vehicle itself: Should it be a purely ballistic type with
a drag configuration for reentry, or should a "lifting body" configuration,
which would reduce the reentry g-loading, be used?
Three months later, after Sputnik, Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, Commander of the Ballistic Missile Division, ARDC, brought together a group of 56 leading scientists and engineers, headed by Dr. Edward Teller, to make specific recommendations to the Air Force about its space requirements. At that time, General Flickinger recalled Dr. James P. Henry, then on duty in the USAF European Office of Research and Development, to head an ad hoc committee on life sciences of the Teller committee.
The Teller committee met in closed session at ARDC in late 1957 to complete its final report. In substance, it stated that there was no technological reason why the Air Force could not place a man in orbit within 2 years. Recognizing all the questionable aspects of manned space flight, the Teller committee did not try to specify the nature of military missions to be performed; but it did point to the fact that manned space flight should be accomplished both to add to national prestige and to advance science and technology.
After the Teller report was submitted to the Secretary of the Air Force, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Development directed that ARDC prepare an abbreviated development plan for a mancarrying vehicle which could he put into orbit with an Atlas or an Atlas plus a second-stage booster. This directive was redirected to the Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson AFB a component organization of ARDC. Because the fiscal year was drawing to a close, moneys were not immediately available and it was necessary to use available life-sciences funds to the extent of approximately $500,000 to provide one prototype of a single mancarrying capsule within 5 or 6 months.
The contractors' proposals made in response to the hasty requests sent out by ARDC were evaluated by a board in March and April of 1958. Instead of a single contract carrying the development to a prototype, it was decided that awards should be made to the two top proposals for development programs carried only to the mock-up stage. This plan was approved by USAF Headquarters, and awards were made to North American Aviation and to General Electric, which were instructed to proceed to the mockup stage.
Meanwhile, ARDC in March 1958 made a presentation to the Vice Chief of Staff on the complete proposed development plans for a manned space system. Subsequently, the Vice Chief of Staff directed ARDC to establish a task force which would develop plans for a manned space system under highest priority. Headed by General Schriever, the Man-in-Space task force was organized at the Ballistic Missile Division in Englewood, Calif. The working force was composed of both military and civilian personnel, including representatives from the Space Technology laboratories. General Flickinger, who was the life-sciences spokesman for the group, noted that, with a great sense of national urgency, the task group began to accomplish "what really had to be done yesterday."
The first plan prepared was presented to ARDC Headquarters and to ARPA in May 1958. This plan, called Man-in-Space (MIS), was superseded a month later by an accelerated plan known as Man-in-Space Soonest. (MISS) which proposed test programs with animal flights as early as the 1959-60 period, to be followed by the first manned flight in October 1960. Subsequent flights would lead eventually to a lunar landing by 1964.3
It was recognized that MISS would not provide for more than a 24- to 48-hour period in orbit, and this short mission would serve only as a demonstration of technological and operational capability. It was also recognized that before a lunar landing could be accomplished, there must be a better definition of the boundaries of human tolerances.
In the meantime came the decision to establish NASA. When Project Mercury was designated as the U.S. manned space flight program, the U.S. Air Force regrouped part of its program into the Bioastronaitics Orbital Space System (BOSS) program. By late 1959 it had been developed into a fairly comprehensive program for subhuman exposure. By 1960, in the light of proven techniques for deorbit, the program was reworked and became known as the Bioastronautics Orbital Space Program (BOSP). In early 1961 it was accepted fully as an ongoing development program by USAF Headquarters, and was supported by NASA. (The Gagarin flight in May 1961, however, demonstrated that man could successfully orbit the earth, and NASA could no longer justify its support to the Air Force for this program.)
Among those assigned to the MISS planning group was Lt. Col. Stanley White, USAF (MC), a flight surgeon on duty at the AeroMedical laboratory at Wright Air Development Center, Ohio. Although no Air Force-wide medical program had yet been developed in support of the MISS concept, considerable thought was being given to life-support hardware, and it was to this problem that Dr. White had addressed himself. It has been noted that in September 1958, following the passage of the Space Act, a joint NASA-ARPA manned satellite panel was formed to draft specific plans for a program of research leading to manned space flight. When White came to Washington to brief officials on the status of biomedical support in the projected MISS concept, he was tapped for early service with NASA. Subsequently he was to become the senior member of the aeromedical team assigned the mission of establishing criteria for selection of the Mercury astronauts.4
2. This section is based on sources including classified documents which, however, have not been quoted directly, and upon interviews with General Flickinger. Among the classified documents is USAF Manned Military Space System Development Plan, vols. I and II, AF Ballistic Missile Div., ARDC, Apr. 25,1858. see also, for brief description, James M. Grimwood, Project Mercury: A Chronology, NASA SP-4001, 1963, p. 17.
3. Based on diary notes of General Flickinger and informal discussions between General Flickinger and the author, 1963-64. The role of General Flickinger in the MIS program is discussed in Shirley Thomas, Men of Space, vol. 3 (Philadelphia: Chilton Co., 1961), pp. 74-96.
4. Informal discussions between Dr. White and the author, 1961-63.