[vii] Americans hailed the first manned lunar landing as an unprecedented technological achievement, a triumph of American ingenuity, inventiveness, and enterprise, and a symbol of the nation's return to world technological preeminence. This praise for American technology obscured a fundamental reality: that man, not the machine, was the critical variable in manned spaceflight and that a major responsibility for controlling this variable lay not only with engineers and mission planners, but with life scientists as well.
In 1958, the year in which Congress established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the human factor (the necessity for considering human well-being, health, safety, performance, and behavior as major constraints in engineering and mission planning) was the major concern for manned operations in space. The human factor injected into an otherwise purely engineering undertaking an array of variables that were, at the time, neither predictable nor easily specified. In a number of significant areas, normative values for predicting human physiological and behavioral responses to the conditions of spaceflight and the space environment and for providing specifications for the design and engineering of life support, protection, communications, and control systems were either nonexistent or of questionable validity.
Clinicians and biomedical scientists could not predict the limits of human tolerance to the actual and potential hazards of spaceflight. These hazards included "stress factors" of spaceflight (multiple G and impact forces, noise and vibration, isolation and confinement, alterations in day-night cycle, abrupt changes in demands on circulatory and respiratory systems), effects of exposure to a closed environment (artificial atmosphere, toxic contaminants, fuel leakage, humidity and thermal extremes), and hazards of the natural environment of space (weightlessness, radiation, thermal extremes, oxygen deprivation). The future of manned spaceflight hinged on the ability of biomedical scientists to identify limits of human tolerance to these environmental and operational factors.
[viii] Identification of tolerance limits was considered essential not only for the qualification of man for spaceflight, but also for engineering and mission planning. Engineers required precise information on human physiological and behavioral requirements in order to design and engineer space systems that would protect human passengers against these expected hazards, provide for effective monitoring of critical physiological functions, and, through proper placement and arrangement of communications, control, and display equipment, assure effective human performance. Precise human factor specifications were needed in order to avoid unnecessary weight (a major concern because of launch propulsion limitations) and unnecessary complexity. Mission planners also required exacting biomedical specifications in order to define mission profiles, establish mission durations, integrate biomedical monitoring into the overall mission, and provide for safe and efficient recovery operations for man (and machine). In short, the human factor created a need for active consideration of biomedical factors and active participation of life scientists in planning, evaluating, and implementing research, development, and operations in support of manned spaceflight.
Given the human factor, those charged with responsibility for planning the American manned space program recognized from the outset the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to technical and operational decision making and for close and continuous interaction among life scientists, physical scientists, engineers, and mission planners. This had a direct bearing on space program organization and management. Recognizing the importance of biomedicine to the initial manned effort, NASA's first Administrator, T. Keith Glennan, established a biomedical group as an adjunct to the Space Task Group, which had technical and operational responsibility for Project Mercury, and created a special, high-level advisory group of leading human factors specialists to advise NASA on biomedical requirements for the manned space program. Later, as the scope of the space program expanded and as NASA began to plan for manned programs beyond Mercury, Glennan's successor, James E. Webb, saw a need to expand and diversify the agency's life sciences programs to meet the requirements of an expanded, diversified, and accelerated manned (and bioscience) space program.
Webb authorized a form of organization and management for the life sciences that turned out to be a source of enduring internal conflict and external controversy throughout the manned space program. He and his subordinates viewed the life sciences as activities that should be supportive of and subordinate to the agency's major space programs (space sciences, advanced research and technology, manned spaceflight operations). They favored a form of organization which aligned clinical medicine with the manned spaceflight program office, medical and [ix] human factor research with the advanced research and technology program office, and space biology ('biosciences") with the space sciences and applications program. This arrangement, in management's view, would encourage multi-disciplinary coordination in areas where coordination was essential, while at the same time ensuring effective alignment of the elements of the life sciences programs with the respective major program offices. NASA's top management, which included no life scientists, made nominal provision for coordination among these three life sciences components. No direct effort was made to integrate the life sciences into a single office or to appoint a life scientist to a high-level administrative position. In the view of Webb and his top administrators, NASA had a critical need for life sciences support of its major space programs, but did not have a need for a major program in the life sciences.
This approach to the organization and management of the life sciences was logical, given the agency's major responsibilities in space and its obligation to achieve major manned spaceflight objectives in the most expeditious, efficient, and economical way. Nonetheless, this arrangement generated internal conflict and controversy and gave rise to a unique term, "biopolitics." Biopolitics refers to competition for life sciences funds, resources, and program authorities and occurred at several levels: among the three NASA life sciences offices, between NASA managers and public spokesmen for the scientific community, and between NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
Internally this arrangement and personalities combined to foster divisiveness among the agency's three life sciences offices. Dominated by physical scientists and engineers, NASA's top administrators believed that the life sciences could be compartmentalized along the same lines as the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering, when in fact the biological sciences, behavioral sciences, medical sciences, and clinical medicine are to some degree interdependent and often had areas of overlap Dividing and compartmentalizing life sciences management resulted in little active and regular interaction and cooperation among biologists' medical scientists, and clinicians (generally a normal activity in biomedical settings). In the process, management inadvertently invited factionalism and jurisdictional disputes associated with competition for funds, resources, and authority. The effective subordination of the life sciences to engineering and the physical sciences retarded the growth and development of a viable program of fundamental research in biomedicine and of an effective and integrated life sciences program, and discouraged life scientists outside NASA from actively supporting and participating in the manned space program.
Many articulate and influential scientists were hostile to the manned space program and viewed NASA's arrangements for the organization and [x] management of its life sciences programs as justification for their hostility. These scientists, who viewed manned spaceflight as an unnecessary and unjustified investment of funds and a reckless and unnecessary risk of human life, favored a space program oriented toward scientific research in space rather than manned space exploration. They believed that the manned program used funds that could be better spent on unmanned space missions. Thus they looked upon NASA's arrangements for the life sciences as evidence of the agency's insensitivity to scientific research. The life sciences, they felt, could not make important contributions to scientific knowledge as long as they were decentralized, subordinated to physical science, engineering, and operational programs, and devoid of representation at the highest administrative levels. The subordination and decentralization of the life sciences, combined with the mission orientation of NASA, would, in their view, preclude the interaction among biologists, medical scientists, and clinicians that is normal in biomedical research settings, discourage the development of a program of fundamental biomedical research, and encourage the use of man as an experimental animal. Given these concerns, many scientists questioned NASA's ability to provide adequate biomedical support for manned spaceflight.
NASA's top management was repeatedly urged to free its life sciences programs from subordination to engineering and mission operations. Critics stressed the need for increased emphasis on fundamental research and a more traditional approach to the qualification of man for spaceflight (particularly, animal research as a preliminary condition of manned flights). Toward these ends, they recommended that NASA create a centralized life sciences research facility, an integrated life sciences program office, and a high-level life sciences administrative position.
External criticism of NASA's life sciences programs continued throughout the manned space program and resulted in several congressional investigations. Except when pressed by Congress, NASA's top administrators tended not to respond to the hue and cry from the scientific community. An integrated life sciences program, in management's view, was inconsistent with the agency's major responsibilities in space. Implementation of these recommendations, management believed, would necessitate a major increase in the space program budget and a major realignment of program responsibilities which could retard the pace of the manned program. NASA suspected that its critics among scientists wanted the agency to function as if it were a scientific research organization, comparable to the National Institutes of Health, rather than a mission agency charged with conducting manned and unmanned operations in space for scientific and technological development. With a mandate to place a man on the Moon before 1970 and to develop the nation's capabilities for manned operations in space, NASA could not afford, from management's perspective, [xi] the leisurely pace and autonomous structure of a scientific research organization.
NASA also, in the early 1960s, was not in a political position to build up its life sciences research capabilities and its life sciences program to the level required to satisfy these scientists. A major expansion of in-house capabilities in the life sciences ran directly counter to the aspirations of the Air Force. Air Force interest in manned spaceflight began in the late 1940s. By 1958, it had oversight responsibility for all space-related research and development within the Department of Defense and was well ahead of NASA and the other military services in planning for manned space operations. More important, the Air Force had pioneered in the field of aerospace medicine, had conducted or sponsored most of the extant research into the human factors aspects of high-altitude flight and spaceflight, was the nation's major employer of specialists in space medicine and biotechnology, and had facilities for research and development in aerospace medicine and biotechnology unmatched by any other government or private agency. As late as 1965, the Air Force was still the nation's leader in aerospace medical research and development and the training of specialists in aerospace medicine.
Given its own aspirations in space, the critical importance of biomedicine to manned spaceflight, and its unchallenged leadership in space medicine, the Air Force did not favor an expanded life sciences program within NASA. While Air Force officials had no objection to an increase in NASA's capabilities in space biology, they adamantly opposed any NASA buildup in biomedicine and biotechnology. Both political and practical factors underlay this opposition. Politically, Air Force officials feared that any reduction in its biomedical capabilities would justify a reduction in support for an Air Force manned space program. In practical terms, the Air Force feared that a major biomedical program within NASA would preclude full utilization of existing Air Force aeromedical research, development, and training facilities, make it difficult for the Air Force to attract specialists in aerospace medicine and biotechnology, and deprive the Air Force's aerospace physicians of the opportunity to gain experience m manned space operations. Accordingly, the Air Force and its supporters in Congress strove to deny NASA the funds and authority to strengthen its in-house biomedical capabilities at the same time that life scientists outside NASA were demanding that NASA increase these capabilities.
The history of the biomedical aspects of the manned space program is thus a multifaceted one. One facet is the technical and operational decision making that underlay biomedical research, development, and operations in support of the manned space program. What were the biomedical requirements and objectives at each stage of the manned space program? How, and by whom, were these requirements and objectives identified [xii] and ranked? What was the nature of the research and development projects undertaken to fulfill these requirements and achieve these objectives? How successful were the biomedical preparations for, and what were the biomedical results of, each of the manned programs? What role did the separate life sciences programs&emdash;space biology, human factors research, biotechnology, and space medicine&emdash;have in supporting the technical and operational objectives of the manned space program?
The history of biomedicine during the manned space program is also a history of administrative decision making. How did the technical and operational requirements of the manned space program affect the organization and administration of NASA's life sciences programs? What factors underlay management decisions concerning the allocations of life sciences resources, personnel, and authorities? What arrangements did management make to encourage coordination and timely resolution of jurisdictional disputes among the decentralized life sciences programs? What were the major organizational and management problems that emerged within the life sciences programs, and how were these problems resolved? What factors led NASA's top administrators, on several occasions, to make changes in the organization and management of the agency's life sciences programs?
The history of the biomedical aspects of the manned space program is also a study of biopolitics, that is, the effect of political factors on life sciences within the space program. What were the political considerations that influenced decision making in the space life sciences? To what extent, if at all, did these factors influence technical, operational, organizational, and management decisions? How successful were NASA's opponents and critics in influencing congressional decisions related to NASA's life sciences programs?
This historical analysis of biomedicine during the manned space program considers all these questions. The technical and operational problems that NASA's life scientists faced as they strove to provide biomedical support for both approved and advanced manned programs are discussed, as well as the administrative and political problems that emerged as NASA's life sciences programs expanded and diversified to meet the requirements of an accelerated space program. Together, the narrative and analysis illuminate the important contributions of NASA's life scientists to the nation's achievements in space, and record the difficulties and frustrations these scientists experienced as they tried to create a viable, integrated, and effective program in the space life sciences.