Meanwhile, it had become increasingly clear that the nature and scope of biomedical requirements would demand the detailed knowledge of physicians in the various specialties. The concept of a consultant service in addition to the STG-DOD Advisory Board was gradually taking shape. In a letter to the Surgeons General of the three services dated April 16, 1096, Dr. Knauf, the Assistant for Bioastronautics, requested that each Surgeon General nominate from his service the individual most eminently qualified to render consultant service in each of the following specialties: General surgery, orthopedic surgery, pathology, neurosurgery, plastic surgery, internal medicine, and anesthesiology.17 From this total list it was proposed to select a committee made up of a single representative of each specialty as a principal member, with the remainder of the nominees acting as alternate committee members. Colonel Knauf and Captain Graybiel would act as cochairmen of the committee.
On June 1, 1960, all of the nominees met with the cochairmen in Washington, DC.18 Following a briefing on the potential biomedical problems facing the Mercury astronauts, the chairmen requested that the medical officers in each specialty from each of the three services meet as a group and determine which of them would serve as principal consultant for Project Mercury. The other two would serve as alternate or backup members.19
The group defined their objective as follows:20
(1) To insure that the basic plan for postflight medical support was adequate and professionally sound, and that it provided an appropriate level of medical competence at each location where it had been determined that medical forces would be deployed.
(2) To take appropriate steps to insure that there be proper and sound employment of professional resources.
With the organization of this Professional Advisory Committee, which had absorbed the members of the original STG-DOD Medical Advisory Board, planning could go steadily forward. In late June the committee gathered at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. For a 2-day meeting. On June 28 the committee inspected various facilities at the 6550th USAF Hospital at Patrick AFB, giving special attention to surgery, central supply, recovery room, clinical laboratory, and the X-ray department. The members proceeded to Cape Canaveral where they inspected facilities for possible use as a forward medical station. Time was growing short and problems had yet to be resolved.
At a roundtable discussion at Cape Canaveral, the committee directed its attention toward the possible integration of Patrick Air Force Base Hospital into the Mercury Medical Support System, and concluded that the hospital could be used to perform the support mission contemplated in connection with Project Mercury medical recovery operations. It was their opinion that the professional staff at Patrick AFB Hospital should include at the time of manned launched the following additional personnel: neurosurgeon, general surgeon (qualified in thoracic surgery), orthopedic surgeon, plastic surgeon (traumatologist), internist, anesthesiologist, pathologist, radiologist, urologist, nurse (qualified in neurosurgery), neurosurgical technician, orthopedic technician, urological technician, and an officer trained in clinical chemistry. In addition, the committee recommended that certain selected items of equipment be added.
Besides increasing the medical resources at Patrick AFB Hospital for recovery purposes, the committee strongly recommended that a forward medical facility be located at Cape Canaveral to render emergency care in the event of injury to an astronaut. This facility would be prepared to treat shock and to provide any other care that might be necessary to prepare the astronaut for transport to Patrick Air Force Base Hospital.
Although the STG staff had originally proposed that a team be organized to function as the first echelon of medical care- a mobile unit transported by helicopter- the committee now recommended that the forward medical station be designed to support these activities. Seeking a facility located in a permanent or semipermanent structure which would have electricity, potable water supply, and air conditioning, the committee recommended that this forward medical station be housed in the Ground Air Transmitter Building or an equivalent building equally accessible to the skid strip. If such a building were not available, it was recommended that it be constructed. Trailers and tents would be the last resort. To staff this forward medical station, the following professional and sub-professional personnel were to be assigned: one traumatologist, two anesthesiologists, and two independent-duty technicians.
By the summer of 1960 plans were completed, and in late June 1960 the Professional Advisory Committee visited Grand Bahama Island and Grand Turk Island in an effort to develop a better understanding of the medical parameters of Project Mercury manned flight operations. As a result of this visit, the committee recommended that the medical facilities on Grand Bahama Island and Grand Turk Island include at least 1,200 square feet and be comparable to those at Patrick AFB. It was suggested that quonset huts equipped with one operating room be utilized. No additional space for debriefing would be needed, since this could be conducted in the medical facility. It was contemplated that the astronaut would ordinarily not be held on these islands for more than 48 hours, with 72 hours as a maximum. No convalescent period was foreseen.
The committee also considered other vital points of medical support. In summary, the following recommendations were made:
1. The medical facility on Grand Bahama Island would be backed up by staff at Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral.
2. On all destroyers there should be a technician capable of performing laboratory duties.
3. All physicians selected should be certified by their specialty board or the equivalent.
4. An oral surgeon and a group of consultants should be on call the day of launch.
5. The space required at Cape Canaveral for medical facilities would be 1,000 square feet, and not 2,000 square feet as originally planned.
Thus did the large-scale medical complex for support of Project Mercury manned flight begin to take shape.21
On July 6, 1960, following this meeting, the Associate Director of Project
Mercury, Walter C. Williams, summed up the STG medical requirements for
launch, flight, and recovery in a letter addressed to the DOD Representative,
Project Mercury Support Operations:
17. Colonel Knauf, Ltr to the Surgeons General, Army, Navy, and Air Force, Apr. 16, 1960; interview with Colonel Knauf by the author, Aug. 21, 1962.
18. Present as observers were representatives of the Asst. Secretary of Defense, the Lovelace Advisory Group, and the Space Task Group.
19. Interview. Colonel Knauf by the author, Aug. 21,1962.
20. Walter C. Williams, Ltr to Hq., NASA, June 7, 1960.
21. There were professional details that would be equally time consuming and require the painstaking attention of the committee as well. For example, when the members met again at Cape Canaveral on Nov. 29, 1960, details of medical supplies and equipment were discussed.
22. Walter C. Williams, Assoc. Dir. of Project Mercury, Ltr to Maj. Gen. Leighton I. Davis, USAF, DOD Representative, Project Mercury Recovery Operations, Subj.: Aeromedical Support for Project Mercury Recovery Operations, July 6,1960.