Clinical Factors:  USAF Aerospace Medicine

Notwithstanding the conviction of certain lending civilian scientists that space medicine was an entirely new field, the U.S. Air Force bioastronautics community as early as 1949 had considered space medicine to be an extension of aviation medicine.3

Indeed, as early as World War I, the Army—parent of the U.S. Air Force-had trained a special kind of medical officer, the flight surgeon. This specialist, while still serving in many cases as a clinician treating sick patients, more often functioned as a medical officer concerned with healthy pilots under the unique stress of surviving in an al en atmosphere. He also worked with the design engineer on the development of equipment and instruments to help a pilot overcome the adverse environment. Thus, medicine was already wedded to flight technology. This had led to manned flight at extreme altitudes by midcentury. Ultimately, the bioastronautics experts believed, it would lead to manned space flight.

The U.S. Air Force (a part of the Army until 1947) had thus recognized as early as World War I that the physician was vitally important as a member of the aeronautics team.4 During World War I the new School of Aviation Medicine (SAM) at Mineola, Long Island, had concerned itself with the physiological problems of stress faced by man in flight, and the medical staff had concentrated on establishing physical standards necessary for military pilots. Following World War I the school had moved to Brooks Air Force Base, Tex., and subsequently to Randolph Air Force Base, where a small in-house group sponsored aviation medical research and education, the only resource of its kind in the world.5

After World War II the commandant, Col. Harry G. Armstrong6 , a pioneer in aviation medicine, gathered together certain leading German scientists in the field of aviation medicine and space science.7 On February 9, 1949, the first Department of Space Medicine in the world was established at the school, and Dr. Hubertus Strughold subsequently became the first professor of Space Medicine.8

As director of aeromedical research for the German Air Force, Dr. Strughold had been aware of the space-flight ambitions of Drs. Walter Dornberger and Wernher von Braun of the V-2 program at Peenemunde. He had himself theorized for several decades on the medical implications of space flight.9

Strughold and his modest SAM staff in 1949 estimated that the main medical problems of space flight could be formulated and the majority of the questions fully answered within 10 to 15 years. Hardware could be developed within 15 to 20 years. The first manned space flights thus would become feasible between 1964 and 1969.

Among the fundamental studies initiated were those in acceleration, noise and vibration, atmospheric control, weightlessness. and nutrition. Unfortunately, noted one British lecturer:

At that time it appeared that most of the problems encountered in space flight would be logical extensions of those already encountered in aviation, and that they were not insurmountable.  Two major problems of manned space flight, it was believed, were solar radiation and weightlessness.

As a first step toward solving these problems, the School of Aviation Medicine turned to the experience of the Germans at Peenemunde and in the German aeromedical laboratories. This led to the publication in 1950 of the two-volume German Aviation Medicine in World War II, prepared by 56 leading German aviation specialists, and translated and published by the U.S. Air Force. Such topics as the physiological fundamentals of high altitude and acceleration and the potential problems of man under gravity-free conditions were discussed.11 Thus the advances of German aviation medicine in World War II became spoils of war and a part of the open literature in the field.

Meanwhile, as early as 1948, representatives of the U.S. Air Force School Of Aviation Medicine and the Lovelace Foundation had held symposia aimed toward aiding the accomplishment of manned travel in the upper atmosphere, emphasis being on the concept that "one must learn to walk before one runs." Two subsequent symposia in 1950 and 1951 led to the publication of Physics and Medicine of the Upper Atmosphere, which provided data cross sectioning of four scientific disciplines: Astrophysics, aeronautical engineering, radiobiology, and aviation medicine.12 The need for cross-fertilization of scientific disciplines, as recognized by this group of the Nation's scientists, was the most important single factor with which the scientific community during the next few years must cope to meet the complex requirements of the advancing technology of manned flight and manned space flight.

By the midfifties current thinking in the Air Force was increasingly oriented toward possible manned space flight. For example, in February 1957 The Journal of Aviation Medicine published an article on "Selection and Training of Personnel for Space Flight," which concluded that "space flight is not drastically different from most aspects of aviation which are now familiar."13 This article aptly foreshadowed the pattern that was actually followed in the selection and training program for Project Mercury.

3.  See, for example, Harry G. Armstrong, Aerospace Medicine (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1961), successor to The Principles and Practice of Aviation Medicine (1st ed., 1934), the classical reference in the field. The current scientific literature In the field is systematically abstracted for Aerospace Medicine, successor to the Journal of Aviation Medicine, by Dr. Arnold Jacobius, of the Library of Congress. The reader is referred to these two basic sources for further review of the scientific literature in the field.

4.  Mae Mills Link and Hubert A. Coleman, Medical support of the Army Air Forces in World War II (Washington. D. C.: Office of the Surgeon General, USAF, 1955), pp. 230-351.

5.  Subsequently, to keep pace with the approaching space age, SAM in 1959 moved back to Brooks AFB, where a new complex of research and testing facilities was being constructed. SAM was redesignated the School of Aerospace Medicine.

6.  Harry G. Armstrong, "Origins of Space Medicine," U.S. Armed Forces Med. J., vol. X, no. 4, Apr. 1959, p. 392. The reader is also referred to the extensive documentation sources in the archives in the Aerospace Medical Div., Brooks AFB, Tex. The author of the present study, who was senior Air Force Medical Historian from 1951 to 1962, has used these documents extensively, as well as documents in the Office of the Surgeon General. USAF, to which the reader Is referred.

7.  This original group included Hubertus Strughold, M.D., Ph. D., who had been director of Aeromedical Research Inst., Berlin, Germany: Dr. Heinz Haber, who later became chief science consultant for Walt Disney Productions; Dr. Fritz Haber, who designed the sealed cabin for use at Randolph AFB, and later was associated with Avco Manufacturing Corp.: and Dr. Konrad Johannes Karl Buettner, a bioclimatologist from Westendorf, Germany, who later was associated with the Boeing Co. The group was joined subsequently by Dr. Hans Georg Clamann, who became research physiologist at the school, and by Dr. Siegfried Gerathewohl, who had been chief of the Psychological Testing Center of the German Air Force during World War II. Gerathewohl later joined NASA.

8.  Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, Air Force News Service Release No. 1299, Mar. 28, 1958.

9.  Personal communication.

10.  D. I. Fryer, "The Medical Sciences and Space Flight," R.A.E. Neics, February 1054. See also, for example, Otis O. Benson, Jr., and Hubertus Strughold, eds., Physics and Medicine of the Atmosphere and Space (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1050). The reader is referred to Dr. Strughold's extensive published works, particularly "From Aviation Medicine to Space Medicine," J. Aviation Med., Vol. 23, no, 4, Aug. 1952. Pp. 3l5-318.

11.  German Aviation. Medicine—World War II (2 vols.), prepared under the auspices of the Surgeon General, USAF (Washington, D. C.. 1950). This volume, a classic In the field, is now out of print.

12.  Clayton S. White and Otis O. Benson, Jr., eds., Physics and Medicine of the Upper Atmosphere (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1952).

13.  David H. Beyer and Saul B. Sells, "Selection and Training of Personnel for Space Flight," J. Aviation. Med., vol. 28, vol. February 1957, pp. 1-6. See also Paul A. Campbell, "Aviation Medicine on the Threshold of Space: A Symposium," J. Aviation Med., vol. 29, no. 7, July 1955, pp. 485-492.

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