Office Of Life Sciences Established: 1960

In line with the Kety committee recommendations, an Office of Life Sciences was established on March 1, 1960, with Clark T. Randt, M.D., a member of the Bioscience Advisory Committee, as Director.20

The major programs in NASA concerned with biology, medicine, and psychology obviously were manned space exploration and biological investigations in the space environment. The Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences had noted that in the first category was the current biomedical effort in Project. Mercury. It had stated:

Currently the biomedical personnel concerned with Project Mercury included four military medical doctors and one military psychologist, all on detached service with NASA. In addition, there were 28 engineers and 3 technicians concerned with life-support systems, instrumentation for physiological and environmental monitoring, animal programs for experiments in flight, and protective equipment and devices. This would form the foundation of the life-sciences effort. For the newly established Office of Life Sciences, a total personnel complement of 32 was contemplated, of whom 8 would be professional staff members. It was further contemplated that the number would eventually be 60. "The Office is now being organized," it was reported, "to carry out the staff functions necessary for planning future operations in manned space flight missions and biological investigations."22

Meanwhile, the reaction of the press, and later of the Congress to the August 1959 NASA announcement of the establishment of the Kety committee and the subsequent establishment of an Office of Life Sciences was one of frank appraisal. For example, on August 21, the date of the announcement, The Evening Star (Washington) reported: "The civilian space agency today took the first steps in the direction of participation in space medicine in its own behalf." The Star observed that there were those who discerned in the appointment of this committee "a move to abandon NASA's previously stated position that the agency would leave space medicine to the military services." Nevertheless, it conceded, the shift had been "considered probable, if not inevitable, for some time." Should a space medicine section be established in NASA it would, the Star continued, be the U.S. Government's third major effort in that field.23 "Exactly how the problems to be encountered in space by civilians would differ from those of the military was not immediately apparent," the Star concluded.

During the next months, while Project Mercury was supported by military biomedical personnel, there was in Congress a careful consideration of the pattern that future biomedical support should take. Hearings held by both the House Subcommittee on Science and Aeronautical and Space Sciences touched upon this problem.24

Questioned by Congressman Emilio Q. Daddario of Connecticut about the respective roles of NASA and the services in providing biomedical support for manned space exploration beyond Project Mercury, Dr. Glennan, the NASA Administrator, stated:

Congressman Daddario observed that, in view of existing military laboratories, it would represent duplication and waste for NASA to build its own in-house capability. Dr. Dryden, the Deputy Administrator, responded as follows:
  The clarification of the ultimate role and mission of the services versus in-house biomedical capability was yet to come in the spring of 1960; the subject would continue to be of some concern to the Congress and to the Nation in the following months.

Meanwhile Dr. Randt, the new Director of the Office of Life Sciences, was in the process of clarifying the roles and mission of his office in relationship to Project Mercury. On June 20, 1960, the first planning conference on biomedical experiments in extraterrestrial environments was held, with Dr. Randt presiding. In the course of the conference be delineated the relationship of his office with that of the Space Task Group and Project Mercury:

This pattern was to be followed as Project Mercury progressed although it is generally agreed that, at the top levels of management, there was not close rapport. This was inevitable in view of the fact that the Space Task Group, mission oriented and carrying out a Presidential directive to place a man in flight, had proceeded along the guideline that existing technology and off-the-shelf equipment would be used insofar as possible. The Office of Life Sciences, on the other hand, was geared not to the immediate problems of engineering and technology involved in early manned flight, but to the orderly development of a long-range space exploration program, of which Project Mercury was but the first primitive step. The concern of the entire life-sciences community of the Nation, in the universities, in research institutions, and in industry, would be reflected in this office. Man was important both as traveler in space and as visitor upon visitor planets. Life itself, and not its instrument, technology, was the concern of the Office of Life Sciences. Within the broad mandate of the Space Act, the missions of Project Mercury and of the Office of Life Sciences were equally important.

At the moment, however, Project Mercury held top priority, as it had since that day in early October 1958 when it became the symbol of the most ambitious concerted peacetime research and development effort known to man.

20.  NASA Release No. 60-135. Dr. Randt was an eminent neurologist who time to NASA from Western Reserve Univ.

21.  Space Research in the Life Sciences, op. cit., p. 27.

22.  Ibid.

23.  The Evening Star (Washington) noted that the U.S. Air Force already had a "vast network of medical facilities interested in conditions in outer space," and the Navy had "ample facilities" for studying "closed system" conditions such as would be common to both submarines and spaceships. In addition to these two major capabilities, The Star continued, there was the small space medicine activity headed by Dr. Siegfried Gerathewohl at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

24.  See, for example, To Amend the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 and NASA Authorization for Fiscal Year 1961—Part I. See also Hearings Before the Special Investigating Subcommittee on Science and Astronautics, U.S. House of Representative: (56th Cong., 2d sess.), July 15, and 16, 1960.

25.  Space Research in the Life Sciences, op. cit., p. 191.

26.  Ibid.

27.  First Planning Conference on Biomedical Experiments in Extraterrestrial Environments (held under the auspices of Office of Life Science Programs, NASA Hq., June 20, 1960), NASA TN D-781, 1961, p. 62. Meanwhile. as one step toward bringing about closer rapport between the Office of Life Sciences and the STG, James P. Nolan, an engineer graduated from MIT, was assigned as liaison officer to Dr. Randt’s office in Washington, D.C.

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