SP-4213 THE HUMAN FACTOR: Biomedicine in the Manned Space Program to 1980

 

9

A new bioastronautics crisis

 

[135] NASA's biomedical capabilities and management of its life sciences programs again became matters of public concern in 1967. The Apollo 204 fire in January 1967 resurrected doubts about the agency's ability to safeguard the astronauts and complaints about its pragmatic "incremental" approach to the qualification of man for spaceflight. Concurrently, the President's Science Advisory Committee issued a report on post-Apollo goals in space in which it found NASA's biomedical program the chief impediment to extended duration manned spaceflights.

While NASA's top administrators had not been insensitive to the agency's requirements and management problems in the life sciences during the preceding four or five years, they had tended to minimize them. Again confronted by public scrutiny and criticism they decided to initiate their own review.

Between January 1967 and January 1970 NASA's biomedical requirements and capabilities and the organization and management of its life sciences programs were subjected to seven separate investigations: two internal, two by the President's Science Advisory Committee, one by the National Academy of Sciences, and two by congressional committees. Collectively, these investigations confirmed the recurring criticisms: NASA had failed to establish a sound scientific foundation for biomedical support of extended duration manned spaceflight, and its arrangements for administering its life sciences programs were a major cause of the problem. The recommendations of these committees, combined with a reduction of official and public support for manned spaceflight following the initial lunar landing, forced NASA management to reevaluate its approach to biomedicine and life sciences administration. This led, in late 1970, to a major reorientation of life science activities and reorganization of the life science programs.

 

[136] PUBLIC SCIENTISTS' PERSPECTIVES ON THE POST-APOLLO SPACE PROGRAM

As Project Gemini ended in late 1966, President Johnson and his advisors on the National Aeronautics and Space Council and the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) began to take a serious look at the post-Apollo space program. PSAC, through its Space Science and Space Technology panels, had the task of reviewing civilian and military space programs and recommending priorities for the 1970s.

The committee completed its study on January 11, 1967. In a report titled The Space Program in the Post-Apollo Period, it advised the President that he could either follow the example set by President Kennedy in 1961 and declare a single major program objective, such as a Mars flyby or landing, or propose a balanced and diversified program that had many, but more limited, objectives. The authors clearly favored the latter, a "well-rounded" space program that would develop "a spectrum of national capabilities for operations in space."1 To achieve a substantial margin of flexibility" in objectives, the space program should have in creased emphasis on scientific investigations, decreased emphasis on manned exploration, and more effective integration of manned and unmanned flight projects. The report proposed five "major objectives" for the 1970s:

 

1. Extension of the Apollo program "in order to exploit our anticipated capability to explore the Moon"

2. "A strongly upgraded program" of unmanned exploratory flights to the planets for both scientific investigation and planning of future manned missions

3. A program of scientific investigation and technology development to determine human capabilities and requirements in long-duration flight "in anticipation of manned planetary exploration"

4. The "vigorous exploitation" of space science and applications for purposes of "national security and the social and economic well being" of the nation

5. The "exploitation of our capability to carry out complex technical operations in near Earth orbit" for the advancement of "science, particularly astronomy"2

 

The report found NASA's biomedical capabilities inadequate insofar as long-duration (more than 14 days) manned spaceflight was concerned, citing insufficient ground-based studies; inadequate bioinstrumentation; insufficient research in cell biology and mammalian physiology; "fragmentary and entirely inadequate" investigations of central nervous, [137] metabolic, and endocrine system functions; and incomplete pre- and postflight assessments. In short, NASA's biomedical programs had not produced the fundamental knowledge of human physiology and psychology that would be essential for predicting human responses to long-duration flights.3 A major manned program, such as a Mars landing, should be forestalled until the 1980s. NASA should concentrate in the immediate post-Apollo period on Earth-orbital flights of 28 to 100 days, using an orbital workshop and both primates and humans as test subjects. "Continuous medical observation" and controlled investigations of mammalian physiological and psychological reactions to spaceflight should be augmented by extensive, ground-based research to establish norms against which inflight responses could be measured. The Biosatellite program should be expanded to study effects of spaceflight on human analogues.4

NASA's only scheduled post-Apollo manned program, the Apollo Applications Program, was also criticized. The report questioned whether modification of Apollo hardware could provide the laboratory and workshop space necessary for comprehensive biomedical investigations. The tentative plan to have the astronauts construct the workshop in space was troubling, since NASA lacked the necessary data on human metabolic requirements to predict their ability to perform such work in space. The report recommended that NASA coordinate its plans for the Apollo Applications Program closely with the Air Force's plans for a Manned Orbiting Laboratory. NASA might be able to adapt the latter to its Apollo systems, while the Air Force could expand the scope of the orbiting laboratory to permit increased biomedical research.5

Not surprisingly, NASA's administrators were irritated by the Science Advisory Committee's report. While they conceded that the biomedical program was inadequate from a strictly scientific perspective, they contended that it was more than adequate to meet the specific (and nonscientific) objectives of the lunar program.6 The report's emphasis on making animal research a "pacing item" for manned flights was unwelcome; NASA's biomedical scientists, engineers, and mission planners remained convinced that animal research had limited usefulness within the manned program.7 Finally, NASA's administrators were not favorably disposed to linking the Apollo Applications Program to the Air Force's orbiting laboratory Not only had NASA fought long and hard to make the civilian space program independent of the military, it had little to gain from the proposed affiliation. In 1967 the Air Force program was two years behind schedule' was plagued by political and funding difficulties, and was assigned a very low priority within the Department of Defense.8

The PSAC report had no direct effect, possibly because public attention was soon riveted on a far more serious matter, the Apollo 204 fire. [138] Although subsequent congressional investigations absolved NASA's biomedical personnel of responsibility and traced the tragedy to an error in operational procedures (using a 100 percent oxygen atmosphere during ground-based simulations), the tire confirmed some scientists in their belief that NASA tended to be less sensitive to human health and safety than to engineering and operations. The President's Science Advisory Committee, prompted by a growing unease . . . [concerning] NASA s biomedical effort . . . on the part of the interested scientific community,"9 formed an ad hoc Panel on Space Biology and Medicine to investigate "NASA's current and proposed activities designed to qualify man for extended space flight."

In presenting its findings and recommendations in September 1967, the panel reaffirmed those contained in the January report. The second report reemphasized the need for a major and comprehensive program of fundamental biological and biomedical research to qualify man for long-duration flight. It went further, however, and stated that NASA, 'as presently organized, does not appear to have the capability of developing a satisfactory program to study the effects of the space environment on man." The reason was that the agency lacked "the scientific leadership, program for needed manpower development, and method for allocating funds." The medical program at the Manned Spacecraft Center in particular, was found deficient "in scientific competence at both the leadership and operating levels" and "not capable of mounting or supervising a meaningful program that will qualify man for interplanetary flight."10

It appears that the authors (particularly the principal author, Dr. Eugene Stead) were interested not so much in stimulating NASA to reorganize the Life Sciences Program as in encouraging the agency to expand the role of external life scientists in biomedical program planning and to abandon the incremental approach favored by the Manned Spacecraft Center staff in favor of the approach favored by scientists who supported the PSAC's position. The report recommended no organizational changes, but stressed the need for "a formal in-house mechanism" to bring together "imaginative biomedical and physical scientists" to develop "new technologies . . . to exploit the demands of this new type of environmental medicine" and to generate "new programs" for the scientific investigation of such "environmental factors" as "the long-term effects of prolonged weightlessness."11 Indeed, some within the committee went so far as to suggest that NASA replace the existing medical staff at the Manned Spacecraft Center with "a permanent group under Dr. Stead."12

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Seamans and Life Sciences Directors Group Chairman J. W. Humphreys viewed the report as self-serving Nonetheless, they recognized that it could not be ignored. Seamans found the report "disturbing," especially in its references to the medical program [139] at the Manned Spacecraft Center, and concluded that its finding 'warranted" an internal investigation. Humphreys reached the same conclusion and suggested that some input from a few non-agency biological and medical scientists" could have' a salutary effect" and dispel some of the concerns raised by the report.13 Accordingly, Seamans asked two administrators within the Office of Programs, Bernard Maggin and Robert yell, to conduct a preliminary investigation and recommend a course of action.

While Maggin and Bell were at work (September and October 1967), stead's ad hoc panel was upgraded to a Biomedical Working Group and authorized by the President's Science Advisory Committee to conduct a thorough investigation of the biomedical requirements for, and long-term environmental effects of, long-duration spaceflight. Officially, this was part of a broad investigation of the role of government agencies and universities in the study of the effects of the environment on man,"14 and the Science Advisory Committee was interested not only in NASA's longrange biomedical capabilities but also in NASA's impact on health resources and medical manpower. President Johnson had established a Federal Interdepartmental Health Policy Council to recommend changes that would contribute to an improvement in health care funding and delivery. Some council officials believed NASA's medical manpower and medical research funds grossly exceeded its requirements, since only a handful of astronauts were beneficiaries. Consequently, the President's Science Advisory Committee study was inspired not only by the imminence of the post-Apollo space program but also by the interests of federal health policy.15

Stead's Working Group did not complete its investigation until May 1968 and did not publish its final report until November 1969. However, interim reports were issued and basically restated earlier arguments. The main thrust was that 'life scientists continue to play a minor role in the affairs of NASA" because engineers and mission planners "are again setting the constraints." As a result, NASA's biomedical programs had contributed little to "the understanding of biological processes" and, as organized' would "never make major contributions to the life sciences."16

Stead summarized the Working Group's overall findings at a general meeting of the Space Science and Technology Panel in March 1968. First, he contended, "high level policy" within NASA "had not favored the creation of a significant biomedical program" due to the "test pilot-flight Surgeon relationship" that characterized the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo projects Second, NASA's organizational arrangements had "resulted in Poor communications between the various program offices in the biomedical area," a situation that had retarded the growth of the life Sciences program at Ames and allowed the Manned Spacecraft Center [140] biomedical program to isolate itself from scientific considerations Third, biomedical research" at both MSC and Ames was minimal and "totally inadequate to the future requirements of a significant biomedical program." Finally, the MSC biomedical staff lacked the scientific competence "to develop basic research programs, to use biological test systems other than man, or to develop meaningful research protocols for use in space flight"17 Stead offered no recommendations for improving the organization of the life sciences programs, though he would do so in his final, published report.18

This report was not widely distributed, although the findings were presented to the President's Science Advisory Committee, the National Aeronautics and Space Council, President Johnson, and NASA's top management. Stead and his group held back from publishing the report, partly because they wanted it to be in final form and partly because they were awaiting the outcome of NASA's internal investigation.19

 

INTERNAL ASSESSMENTS

Although NASA's administrators were aware of the management problems that hindered coordination of the life sciences programs, as long as these problems did not interfere with Gemini and Apollo or attract unfavorable publicity they had no incentive to take immediate action. The incentives came in the form of adverse publicity following the Apollo 204 fire and of strong criticisms from the biomedical committees sponsored by the President's Science Advisory Committee. As J. W. Humphreys observed:

 

With the culmination of short duration flights exhibited by Mercury and Gemini, attendant budgetary constraints, and the need to solve different and more complex problems (long duration manned flights), there was a requirement for a change in attitude and a need to reconsider goals and missions, responsibilities, and scientific objectives. It was not, however, until the rather critical Biomedical Subcommittee report of the President's Science Advisory Committee (1967) that a comprehensive study was requested which underscored the degree of programmatic imbalance, the significance of inter-office organizational differences, and the validity of specific internal and external problem areas. 20

 

Management's first response was to request a preliminary study in August 1967. The investigation conducted by Bernard Maggin and Robert Bell was the first agency-wide life sciences review conducted by high-level administrators since 1962. Maggin and Bell presented their findings in the early autumn of 1967. 21 They recognized the existence of the internal problems to which many life scientists had alluded but which management had generally ignored. They cited "a deep-seated jurisdictional dispute" between the Biosciences and Biotechnology-Human Research [141] divisions, the duration of which had' generated considerable frustration" on both sides. The dispute had undermined the confidence of the scientific community and encouraged views such as those expressed in the Science Advisory Committee reports, had generated confusion at the centers (particularly Ames, where the life scientists felt' that they are expected to have allegiance to one office or the other"), and had precluded development of a single agency position and program plan'' in disputed scientific and technical areas, the "classical example" being primate flights. 22

Maggin and Bell also identified the problem of coordination between the OMSF Directorate of Space Medicine and the MSC Directorate of Medical Research and Operations. They noted that a 'fundamental dispute over questions related to authority and responsibility" was 'evolving" between headquarters and MSC medical officers. The sources of the dispute were changes in the nature of the two offices. While the headquarters directorate had been "somewhat out of the mainstream" of NASA's life sciences for many years, it was beginning to develop into an important office because of the need to prepare a comprehensive biomedical program for the Apollo Applications Program and to appoint J. W. Humphreys, an assertive administrator and former Air Force major general. Concurrently, the MSC directorate was expanding from an "operational support" office into one concerned with the "broader role" of medical operations, medical research, and clinical medicine. This, combined with the center's traditional autonomy, discouraged cooperation between the two space medical offices. 23

Finally, Maggin and Bell identified the ineffectiveness of the Life Sciences Directors Group. "At best," they observed, the group had achieved "spotty coordination." Though expected to coordinate' the role and missions of the different organizational elements" and the planning and programming process," the directors were unable to do so, largely because of the absence of any 'mechanism for resolving the disputes" which are generated in these areas. Such mechanisms were lacking because NASA had virtually no "official documentation" delineating the roles and responsibilities of the life sciences components-no policy directives, no single functional statement," and only one management instruction (the one establishing the Directors Group). Maggin and Bell concluded:

 

Since the responsibilities for the three offices have never been delineated, each member has proprietary interests to protect-not only those of his own, but also those of his boss. He has little precedent on which to yield or compromise on matters with jurisdictional implications Is it reasonable, then to expect them to compromise their own interests or those of their bosses?24

 

These enduring problems, the authors suggested, were aggravated by competition for insufficient resources and by the `'diversity of program [142] practices within the three components." The three life sciences budgets were prepared separately "They [were] never put together so that the resources required for the Total Life Sciences Program [could] be weighted against competing demands." This, in turn, minimized top management s interest in the life sciences since the overall program lacked 'sufficient visibility." The diversity of practices hindered program coordination since each of the three offices had its own peculiar patterns of ~ program execution," program planning," advisory committees, and research objectives.25 "Specific management action" was necessary because life sciences activities were growing and changing at both headquarters and the centers. Maggin and Bell listed various suggestions for reorganization that had been made to them during their investigation. All the suggestions pointed to the need that had been identified in previous internal and external reviews of the Life Sciences Program-a centralized, high-level life sciences authority.26

NASA management ordered a more detailed and extensive review of the problem to identify specific management options. Seamans was aware that the Science Advisory Committee planned to follow up its 'preliminary report" with a more detailed investigation, and he was concerned over growing friction between the Directorate of Space Medicine at headquarters and the Directorate of Medical Research and Operations at MSC. 27 Accordingly, he directed Humphreys to organize a task group to identify the specific areas where changes were warranted, formulate' options" for implementing those changes, and make specific recommendations on the 'delineating of roles and missions."28

This Life Sciences Study Task Group held its first meeting on December 8, 1967, its twentieth on April 17, 1968. Maggin was executive secretary; the other 13 members were drawn from eight field centers and five program offices at NASA Headquarters. That the group had serious backing from NASA's top management was indicated by the terms of the appointments. There was one major constraint: recommendations would have to conform to existing organizational arrangements. 29 The group assumed that the Maggin-Bell study had substantiated the existence of major weaknesses and justified major changes.30

The first task was to define the objectives of the life sciences program and its components Six objectives were defined:

Exobiology: investigations into the origin and evolution of life and the search for extraterrestrial life

Contamination and Containment: development of policies, procedures, and standards; conduct of research and development related to protection from and prevention of extraterrestrial contamination

[143] Bioscience: biological investigations related to the space environment, but not directly related to problems of manned spaceflight

Human Research: biomedical research and development to increase knowledge of human physiological and psychological responses to spaceflight and to increase the effectiveness of man as a component of aerospace systems

Biotechnology: research and development related to life support, protective, and operational systems for all "biological activity"

Flight Projects: conduct of approved and assigned flight projects.31

The group then proceeded to analyze the past, present, and projected future activities of each of the life sciences components in an effort to find a logical correlation between specific objectives and specific program activities. The overall goal was to identify the one life sciences office whose responsibilities were most often correlated with the objectives described above. From this effort, the group conceived a total of 20 possible management options.32 It then assessed each option in terms of the following"evaluation criteria":

 

1. Clear delineation of authority and responsibility
2. Improved integrated program planning, execution, and review
3. Improved external relations
4. Degree of optimized use of resources (staff and funds)
5. Improved headquarters-field centers relationships
6. Consistency with NASA organizational philosophy
7. Minimal degree of disruption of organization
8. Provision of mechanism for resolving disputes.33

 

On this basis, the task group decided on three management options. The first, which was favored by the majority of task group members and by the directors of space medicine and biotechnology and human research, called for designation of one of the existing life sciences offices as the "single office" for life sciences "research and technology." This option would place all "biology and medical science research and technology" in the Office of Advanced Research and Technology. It would allow the individual program offices control over respective flight projects, but would give OART responsibility for unmanned flights that were, entirely or in major part, life sciences flights.34

A minority, backed by the associate administrator for space sciences and the director of biosciences, favored an option that would make space biology independent of man-oriented research and development and would leave exobiology, contamination and containment, and basic bioscience under the jurisdiction of space sciences. The Office of Advanced Research and Technology would have jurisdiction over human research and biotechnology and the authority to coordinate the overall life [144] sciences program and represent the life sciences in dealings with external agencies.35

The fact that the group could not agree on a single option reflected the reality that its members had not been able to set aside parochial interests. Indeed' when asked to review a selected set of contracts and determine the office that should have jurisdiction over them, the biosciences representative and the biotechnology-human research representative each claimed 60 percent of them.36 Moreover, several officials attempted to bypass the committee and influence its decisions. Manned Spacecraft Center medical director Charles Berry proposed that NASA make the center the "lead center" for life sciences programs and grant it the authority to direct and coordinate the Life Sciences Program. The group rejected the suggestion as inconsistent with NASA management philosophy. Berry responded by contacting NASA Administrator James Webb. However, Webb demurred and the matter was dropped.37

More significant, the associate administrator for space sciences, John Naugle, and the director of biosciences, Orr Reynolds, sought to bypass the task group and undertake their own study of the problem. Naugle and Reynolds were concerned that the task group would propose a centralized life sciences office, that space sciences would not be the designated office, and that space biology would be retarded by emphasis on research and development directly related to manned flights. Naugle argued that the "concern over reorganization" was unrelated to the needs of space biology, but rather a response to recurring criticisms of NASA's medical programs in support of manned spaceflight. For this reason, he contended, reorganization would work to "the detriment of space biology," as fundamental biology would have a low priority in an integrated life sciences program.38 Subsequently, Reynolds, with Naugle's backing, prepared several reports that were intended to bolster the space sciences position.39

Humphreys urged NASA Associate Administrator Homer Newell (Seamans had resigned in December 1967) to adopt the recommendation of the task group, but Newell did not comply. Possibly because of his former position as associate administrator for space sciences, he shared the concerns of Naugle and Reynolds and their preference for the option that gave autonomy to space biology.40 Newell may also have been influenced by the views of external life scientists, which had been solicited by Reynolds in an effort to gain support for his position. These scientists encouraged Newell to maintain the autonomy and integrity of NASA's biological program.41

Humphreys and Walton Jones, director of biotechnology and human research' were not impressed by these arguments.42 However, Newell rejected the task group's recommendations, although to ensure coordination he accepted the suggestion that the Life Sciences Directors Group be [145] replaced by a body that had the authority to make and implement decisions. He also accepted the task group's view that the term "life sciences" was too nebulous and should be replaced by the designation 'space biology and aerospace medicine." He agreed that this more accurately reflected the reality that NASA had two, rather than three, life sciences programs, one oriented toward fundamental biology, the other toward biomedicine.43

Accordingly, Newell established the NASA Space Biology and Aerospace Medicine Board in May 1968. It included the three program office associate administrators and the three life sciences directors as members and was chaired by the associate administrator for advanced research and technology. Its function was "to furnish the necessary coordination, review the direction of offices represented on the Board and to achieve a suitably balanced program free of wasteful duplication and conflict." Within this framework, the Office of Space Sciences would have jurisdiction over exobiology, fundamental biology, and "associated SRT"; the Office of Advanced Research and Technology over biotechnology, human research, human factors, environmental control, man-machine relationships, and medical research; and the Office of Manned Space Flight over manned spaceflight safety and operations. To ensure day-to-day coordination, the board would have a Program Management Council composed of the life sciences directors and representatives from the Manned Spacecraft Center and Ames. This council would have daily responsibility but, like the Directors Group, no authority.44

In effect, NASA management once again responded to evidence of a need for major reorganization of its Life Sciences Program by making minor adjustments to the existing organization. The Space Biology and Aerospace Medicine Board did make official what had previously been unofficial: real authority over the management of the life sciences programs rested with the program office administrators, rather than the life sciences directors. Nevertheless, the Program Management Council was really no more than a restructured Life Sciences Directors Group, and the allocation of program responsibilities was as nebulous as before. For example, the redefinition of program objectives still did not clarify the old problem of authority over animal research, which was a tool for both biology and biotechnology. In spite of two extensive internal reviews, NASA management made no more than cosmetic changes, and the long-standing management problems in the life sciences endured.

 

CONGRESSIONAL BIOPOLITICS

NASA management's response to external criticisms of its biomedical programs in 1967-1968 was comparable to its reaction to similar [146] complaints five years earlier. Its initial reaction was to mount a major internal review, an effort to defuse concerns as much as to identify and eliminate program defects. In both instances, management was willing to make changes so long as they did not entail a major reorganization or redistribution of program authority. Later, when public interest waned, management reacted by making some fine adjustments to the organizational machine, while minimizing the need for major modifications in the overall design. However, in 1968 public interest in the life sciences did not wane for long. The President's Science Advisory Committee continued its investigation of NASA's life sciences and issued a final report in 1969, at a time when Congress was already considering the need to review one aspect of the life sciences, the Biosatellite Project.

Congress had shown little interest in NASA's Life Sciences Program after 1963, when NASA and the Air Force resolved their disagreement over their respective Space Medicine and Bioastronautics programs. The resolution of that issue and the success of the Mercury and Gemini programs eliminated doubts about NASA's ability to provide adequate biomedical support for the astronauts. Even the Apollo 204 fire did not motivate Congress to investigate NASA's biomedical programs, since there was no evidence that that tragedy resulted from biomedical inadequacies.

Ironically, Congress's renewed interest in NASA's biomedical programs was due to an event, Biosatellite III, that lay outside the manned space program and had only marginal relevance to biomedicine. Biosatellite III, an unmanned biological flight, was terminated on July 6,1969, 9 days into its projected 30-day mission. The Biosatellite III capsule carried a primate named Bonnie. The mission was terminated after Bonnie developed dehydration and associated circulatory problems; she died eight hours after Earth recovery. Weighed against the accomplishments of the space program, the failure of Biosatellite III to achieve all its mission objectives was a relatively minor event and given the impending launch of Apollo 11, few Americans mourned (if they even noticed) the passing of the unfortunate primate. The loss was a great disappointment, however, to a small coterie of biologists within NASA and the community of biological scientists.

Biosatellite III was the last of a series of unmanned biological flights initiated in 1962 to conduct scientific investigations in space on subhuman organisms. From its beginning, the Biosatellite Project was plagued by funding problems, cost overruns, and mission failures.45 Yet it was NASA's sole concession to scientists who believed that this type of basic biological research should have some priority in the space program as a Support to the manned space program.46

For these scientists, Biosatellite 111 represented the last opportunity to Convince NASA's management to reconsider its decision to terminate the [147] Biosatellite Project. In April 1969 NASA had announced its intention to end the project and had asked Congress to redirect Biosatellite funds to Other projects. At the time, NASA planners were looking beyond the lunar landing missions toward the post-Apollo space program, and were hoping to receive authorization and support for a major objective (such as a manned Mars landing or an orbiting space station) that would be to the Space program of the 1970s what the Manned Lunar Landing Program had been for the 1960s. A program of long-duration manned flight (28-plus days) would require, among other things, a greatly expanded program of basic and applied research into human requirements for space. From this perspective, it was believed by top management that continuing biological investigations in space would contribute little to the major long-range plans of the agency, and the extended manned flights would provide opportunities for a broader range of basic biological investigations than would be possible in Biosatellite flights.47

NASA's plans to terminate Biosatellite disturbed scientists who were closely tied to it. Biologists like Ross Adey and Nello Pace, who were linked to research settings outside NASA, had worked long and hard to convince NASA to support programs in space biology and to convince their academic colleagues that NASA had a sincere desire to support fundamental biological investigations in space. For these scientists, Biosatellite represented a realization that their efforts had not been in vain.48

The failure of Biosatellite III intensified the feelings of these scientists. From a scientific perspective, Bonnie's death seemed a strong justification for more intensive investigations into the biological effects of spaceflight, and unmanned biological flights in the Biosatellite mode were more conducive to these types of investigations than biological experiments flown on manned flights. From a practical standpoint, the biological problems that developed in Biosatellite III could presage the types of biological problems that would emerge during long-duration manned flights. Biomedical scientists and bioscientists argued that these problems warranted detailed study before extended manned missions were undertaken. NASA's critics in the scientific community viewed the agency's decision to terminate the Biosatellite flights, especially in view of Biosatellite III , as more evidence of indifference to the scientific aspect of the space program and of willingness to subordinate biomedical issues to engineering and operations considerations.49 The other side of the coin was concern that the use of animals as a precursor to human flight clouded the biomedical issues. Data were difficult to evaluate and could give faulty information. The failure of Biosatellite III could have been due to handling of the subject, not "space environment" problems.

Scientists and congeries of persons and groups opposed to the use of [148] animals in experimentation urged Congress to investigate the Biosatellite Project This alone might not have moved Congress except that related events had already focused congressional attention on the space program Following the successful flight of Apollo 11, Congress faced increasing pressure from groups and individuals who favored a reduction in the space budget. Articulate spokesmen for public interest groups were demanding less money for space and more money for social programs. At the same time, many scientists were calling for greater emphasis on unmanned scientific investigations and less emphasis on manned exploration. NASA's announced goals for the 1970s were contrary to both sentiments. A major manned program would entail a major increase in space program funding and severely limit opportunities for scientific investigations In this light, the Biosatellite issue was significant, for NASA in effect was asking Congress to endorse a plan (termination of Biosatellite, transfer of funds to the Apollo Applications Program) that involved termination of a relatively inexpensive, science-oriented project in favor of a relatively expensive, exploration-oriented manned program.50

The final report of the Biomedical Working Group of the President's Science Advisory Committee appeared in October 1969. This report, Biomedical Foundations of Manned Space Flight, asserted that NASA had not laid the necessary biomedical foundations for the design of optimum flight programs" and cited two reasons for this alleged failure. First, NASA's pragmatic approach to the qualification of man for spaceflight did no more than establish limits of human tolerance to the conditions of specific flight missions and did not involve the types of "innovative research" that would yield fundamental knowledge of the effects of spaceflight on human physiology and performance. This approach was adequate when human tolerance to the conditions of short-duration flights was at issue, but was inadequate for the prediction of, and preparation for, modes and levels of effectiveness" in long-duration flights. Second, NASA had failed to develop mechanisms for encouraging communication and coordination between its space biologists and space physicians, on the one hand, and between the life sciences and the engineering and management operations," on the other. As a result, NASA lacked essential integration of basic research, applied research, life systems development, and flight operations.51

The report concluded that NASA lacked the capability to mount a biomedical program able to support long-duration manned spaceflight and could not gain that capability without "a major modification of its approach to space biomedicine" to emphasize the 'independence" and "unity" of the life sciences. Specifically, NASA should create an integrated "biomedical research program" that emphasized fundamental research and "environmental biological studies." Such integration, [149] however, required that NASA "consider new organizational forms suitable to an expanded and upgraded biological-biomedical effort with biological and medical operations unified within the program".52

To Congressman Joseph Karth, chairman of the Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics' the Science Advisory Committee report, scientists' concerns about the Biosatellite Project, and public reservations about the future courses of the space program justified a congressional review of NASA's "Biosciences Program." Accordingly, he scheduled hearings for mid-November 1969. Officially intended as an investigation of Biosatellite III and a review of NASA's plans to terminate the Biosatellite Project, the hearings actually became an investigation of NASA's management of its overall Life Sciences Program.53

Karth was disturbed by NASA's reluctance to reevaluate its Biosatellite decision in light of the results of Biosatellite lilt Did these results, he asked, not have serious implications for manned flights of long duration? Should not NASA focus in on the effects of spaceflight and the space environment on animals before exposing man to these potential hazards? In short, Karth wanted an answer to the fundamental question that had divided NASA from many within the scientific community since the beginning of the space program: What is the best approach to qualifying man for spaceflight? The incremental approach followed throughout the 1960s, or the approach in which men would be exposed to the space environment only after a lengthy program of research on lower organisms and primates?.54

Those who testified in favor of the latter approach were research-oriented, primarily academic, biologists and biomedical scientists, who urged that the circumstances of Bonnie's death be thoroughly investigated before any further plans were made for a post-Apollo manned program. The principal spokesman for the group was Ross Adey, a University of California biologist and the principal investigator for Biosatellite III. Adey felt that Bonnie's death resulted from a complex interaction between prolonged weightlessness and one or more space environmental factors and that there was a possibility of a comparable interaction in humans during long-duration flight.55

However, scientists like Adey were concerned with more than operational procedures for qualifying man for spaceflight. They viewed NASA's response to Biosatellite III and its decision to terminate Project Biosatellite as simply the latest in a long series of management decisions that revealed a disregard for the space life sciences. They presented an image of NASA as an agency that repeatedly subordinated the life sciences to engineering and operations, consistently ignored the need for a broad, [150] basic research program in the life sciences, and repeatedly refused to implement recommendations from leading scientists to improve coordination among life sciences programs. They cited the oft-repeated recommendation that NASA combine its life sciences programs into a single program office and appoint a nationally respected life scientist to a high-level administrative position.56 These claims bore the implication (not substantiated) that NASA's alleged failings in regard to the life sciences had contributed to the failure of Biosatellite III .

Not surprisingly, NASA's spokesmen viewed the issue from a different perspective. They did not question the scientific value of biological investigations, but they denied that Biosatellite III was a cause for major concern. Humphreys contended that Bonnie's death was a consequence of a phenomenon that had long been investigated by aerospace physicians. Weightlessness causes, through a complicated series of physiological mechanisms, a loss in body weight and a pooling of fluids. This had occurred in most manned flights, but had not had serious consequences and had quickly reversed on return to the Earth. The serious consequences in the monkey resulted from two factors that were not involved in manned flight: physical weakness resulting from implantation of bioinstruments, and the relatively small body weight of the animal. Biosatellite III had achieved its major objective of determining the effects of weightlessness on the systems of "a small sub-human primate" and represented "a laudable scientific goal." However, the results were of no significance to manned flight 'We did not and do not now believe," he affirmed, "that this experiment was a necessary precursor to a manned flight of any particular duration."57

Humphreys and Charles Berry, chief space physician at the Manned Spacecraft Center, strongly denied any need for NASA to change its approach to qualifying man for spaceflight. NASA needed to expand its basic research efforts in biomedicine, and steps in this direction were already under way. As an example, they cited plans to develop the Integrated Medical and Behavioral Laboratory Measurement System (see Chapter 7). They argued that animal experimentation could hinder advances necessary to manned flight, for example, by increasing the "lead times", required to progress from conceptual plan to final qualification of technology systems. The record of space medicine during the manned program, they contended, failed to show any defect in the approach followed during the 1960s or any evidence that preliminary animal flights would have made a substantial difference in the way the manned program was conducted. 58

Finally, NASA spokesmen disputed the need for a unified biological and biomedical program and contended that the recently formed Space Biology and Aerospace Medicine Board would improve the overall [151] management of the agency's life sciences and provide the coordination that had been lacking. NASA was considering other forms of organization in order to strengthen both its medical and biological programs. However, any consolidation of life sciences programs would provide autonomy for biological programs, that is, life sciences activities not directly related to manned spaceflight. Reynolds informed the committee of views he had previously expressed within NASA. He, along with Humphreys and Berry, favored an arrangement that would keep space biology in the Office of Space Science, but combine all human research, development, and operations with a single office.59

In the view of members of Karth's subcommittee, testimony taken during the hearing affirmed the complaints of scientists who were critical of NASA's management of space life sciences. The subcommittee recommended that the Biosatellite program be reinstituted," that the' role of science be uprated as a mission objective," that NASA conduct a new and higher level of biomedical experiments on the astronauts," and that NASA "examine with solicitude" and implement "to fullest practicable extent" the recommendations contained in the President's Science Advisory Committee report.60

Karth conveyed the sentiments of the subcommittee to NASA Deputy Administrator George Low, emphasizing its dissatisfaction with "interoffice relations within NASA." The testimony taken by the subcommittee, he said, showed that the program office associate administrators and the life sciences directors operated in ignorance of the others' plans, programs, and requirements in the life sciences. This, he said, was most obvious in the absence of coordination and meaningful communication between the biosciences and space medicine offices. The testimony also justified the belief that NASA had never made science a 'mission objective" of its manned programs and had little interest in doing so in the future. He concluded that he and the other members of the subcommittee "will be interested in watching how this worthy objective is carried out" in the future.61 Other members of Congress shared Karth's concern and wrote directly to NASA Administrator Thomas Paine for his views on the Science Advisory Committee's report and his assessment of actions that NASA would take in response to its findings and recommendations.62

These inquiries into NASA's life sciences programs between 1967 and 1969 drew public attention to the agency's need to reevaluate its approach to biomedical research, to reassess the role and status of basic biological and medical research within an engineering- and operation-oriented space program, and to reconsider prevailing arrangements for administering biological and medical programs. However, these assessments were already under way within the agency before Congressman Karth began his hearings. By late 1969 NASA's top administrators were [152] reevaluating the scope and organization of space programs at all levels because of uncertainties about the types and numbers of manned missions that would be flown in the 1970s and because of the prospect of reduced space program funding in the 1970s. At the same time, these administrators and NASA's key life scientists had accepted the need for an expanded program of fundamental biomedical research and closer coordination among the man-oriented life sciences in order to qualify man and life support systems for extended duration spaceflights. Public scrutiny of the agency's life sciences gave NASA's key administrators a critical nudge in a direction toward which they were already leaning.63


Air Force flight nurse volunteer is strapped down, with sensors attached to her temples, to be tested on the centrifuge

Air Force flight nurse volunteer is strapped down, with sensors attached to her temples, to be tested on the centrifuge. This test will help establish medical standards for candidates for flight on the Space Shuttle.


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