Chapter 9

Space Medicine in 1961-62

THE SUBORBITAL FLIGHT OF ALAN SHEPARD on May 5, 1961, was, in one sense of the word, anticlimactic. Gagarin had already orbited the earth on April 12. In another sense, however, the Shepard flight was even more dramatic than the Gagarin flight. For here; the entire world witnessed and shared the delays, the tension, and the success of the first U.S. astronaut to travel in space. His ballistic flight path reached a peak of 116 statute miles for a downrange distance of 302 statute miles.1

The details of this event, as well as those of the later manned space flights of Project Mercury, have been recorded in the annals of history. The present account will therefore concentrate upon the medical implications, both in terms of operations and lessons learned and in terms of long-range high-level planning for medical support of manned space flight, rather than upon recounting of each individual mission.

On July 21, 1961, the second suborbital flight was made with Astronaut Virgil Grissom aboard. He traveled to an altitude of 118 statute miles, and 303 miles downrange.2 With this flight and the subsequent orbital flight of the chimpanzee Enos, the Space Task Group could look forward to placing a man in orbit. As the summer of 1961 drew to a close, the rate of progress was unprecedented.

1.  Proceedings of a Conference on Results of the First U.S. Manned Suborbital Space flight, NASA, June 6, 1961.

2.  For complete details, see Results of the Second U.S. Manned Suborbital Space Flight, July 21, 1961, Manned Spacecraft Center, NASA.

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