History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics
 
 
- PART II -
 
2. Achievements In Cosmic Radiation Studies
 
 
 
[13] Studies on the biological effect of cosmic radiation--designed to explore one of the possible hazards of human flight in space--originally came to Holloman as one aspect of the early Project RDO 695-72 (MX-1450R), entitled Physiology of Rocket Flight. During 1953 and most of 1954, the work continued under a new project title, Biophysics of Cosmic Radiation, and since then has continued as Task 78500, Radiation Hazards of Primary Cosmic Particles, within the framework of Project 7851.11
 
Many individuals have contributed directly to the accomplishments of this scientific study. One is Lieutenant Charles H. Steinmetz, who began work in October 1953 and became the first task scientist after the formal establishment of Task 78500. Two years later, on 1 October 1955, Lieutenant Harold H. Kuehn replaced Steinmetz and continued the work as task scientist until he left the Air Force early in 1958. Captain Druey P. Parks, who has shouldered a wide variety of assignments for the Aeromedical Field Laboratory, has also made important contributions to cosmic radiation studies, notably in the area of technical support. And a number of enlisted men assigned to the Space Biology Branch of the laboratory have helped to devise important new techniques while engaged in the day-to-day conduct of the program. Finally, Major David G. Simons, Chief of the Space Biology Branch, has always taken a very direct, personal share in the research related to the hazard of cosmic rays.
 
Direction of the cosmic radiation program was transferred from Wright Field to the Aeromedical Field Laboratory early in 1953, at the same time that Simons was assigned to Holloman, and at first it was the only active endeavor of his Space Biology Branch. Moreover, his arrival coincided with the general turning-point in the history of the program that has brought a sharp increase in scientific achievement from 1953 to the present.
 
The very first flight in the cosmic radiation program after Simons' arrival, however, indicated how easily it could still be subverted by human error. The flight began at Holloman Air Force Base on 12 February 1953 with the objective of exposing hamsters to the effects of radiation at about 90,000 feet for a period of long duration. The balloon evaded tracking crews, but the capsule landed the next day near Whiting Naval Air Station in Florida where it was promptly recovered. The naval authorities sent a teletypewriter message to the Aeromedical Field Laboratory asking what should be done with the capsule. The message was delivered six days later--a minor duration record in itself caused by unusually inefficient service at Center headquarters--whereupon a quick telephone call to Florida effected the opening of the capsule. All seven hamster passengers were still alive, although one died the next day and another was later cannibalized by his fellows.12
 
This memorable flight was followed by six launched from Vernalis Naval Air Station, California, 19-26 February 1953. These were "Moby Dick" flights designed to study high-altitude wind fields for the Air Force Cambridge Research Center by means of long-duration balloon trajectories, but in each instance the Space Biology Branch flew 600 fruit flies (drosophila) in sealed tubes as part of the balloon equipment. Unfortunately, the Moby Dick project called for flight plans that were too long for effective tracking. Some packages were found and returned, but exactly twelve flies out of several thousand used ever came back alive to Holloman.13
 
After three more flights from Holloman, carrying mice, flies, hamsters and dogs to the upper atmosphere, the first flight from a northern location took place on 26 March 1953. The exact site was Tillamook, Oregon, using another Moby Dick launch installation. Then another series of Holloman flights was followed by a sequence of four more northern flights in June and July from Great Falls Air Force Base, Montana. Equipment, workspace and other facilities were provided by the 1300th Air Resupply and Communications Squadron (Special), but the Holloman Balloon Branch sent north its own crew to conduct the launchings. The balloon manufacturer, Mr. Otto C. Winzen of Winzen Research, Incorporated, was present as consultant for the first Great Falls launching.14
 
The last northern flights for 1953 were launched in October and November from Pierre, South Dakota, under a contract with General Mills. The latter firm supplied the balloons this time and took full responsibility for the flight operations, using its own crews and equipment, although a number of Holloman specialists including Major Simons were also on hand.15 This series consisted of five flights and set a precedent for the conduct of off-base flights on a contract basis, but it was the only time that General Mills successfully bid for the contract.
 

[
14] (MISSING PHOTO)
Aeromedical Animal Capsule Ready for Launch
(MISSING PHOTO)
Mouse Entering Container for Ride to Stratosphere
 
[15] The northern flights for 1954--following more flights from Holloman chiefly to evaluate capsule techniques--were conducted under contract with Winzen Research. After one preliminary launching at Fleming Field in South Saint Paul, the main series took place at Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, a location at fifty-seven and one-half degrees north geomagnetic latitude. Winzen supplied both balloons and launch crew, the latter headed by Mr. Ed Lewis, who has also launched propaganda balloons across the Iron Curtain in Europe. Winzen further supplied a Navion tracking aircraft, which worked along with a Holloman C-47, and two radio-equipped panel trucks that Winzen had on loan from the Navy.
 
Eight flights originated at Sault Sainte Marie with biological specimens ranging from radish seeds to monkeys. Two sets of monkeys were lost through technical difficulties, but the next pair flew successfully on two separate occasions. Major Simons and Lieutenant Steinmetz jointly won the United Air Lines Tuttle Award for a paper they prepared describing the methods and results of this series of flights from Sault Sainte Marie.16
 
Another six Holloman flights in the fall of 1954 and the first part of 1955 set the stage for the last northern series to date that has been devoted primarily to bio1ogical cosmic ray research. This was the series of eleven launchings from South Saint Paul and International Falls, Minnesota, which took place 18 July through 20 September 1955. Winzen Research again directed flight operations under contract, although on several occasions uninvited tracking assistance was received from jet fighters of the Air Defense Command which went aloft as a result of balloon inspired flying saucer reports.17
 
During 1956 and 1957, the cosmic radiation program at the Air Force Missile Development Center received less emphasis. One reason is that much of the time the energies and resources of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory, and of the Space Biology Branch in particular, were absorbed in preparations for Holloman's manned balloon program, Project Man-High, which reached a climax with the record-breaking ascent of Major Simons on 19-20 August 1957. Another reason for the slackening pace in cosmic ray research is that the Human Factors Division at Headquarters, Air Research and Development Command was not sufficiently interested. It saw that limited funds were available for human factors research, and gave higher priority to other projects.
 
In fiscal year 1957, as a result, Task 78500 received no "in-house" operating funds at all, while any research on cosmic ray effects by outside investigators had to be funded not through Holloman but through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The latter negotiated only one contract, with the University of Texas. Headquarters assumed that test flights of the Man-High balloon capsule could provide whatever direct cosmic ray exposures were needed under the Texas contract and two other outside contracts that were still in effect from an earlier period.
 
Even during fiscal year 1957, Lieutenant Kuehn remained at his post as cosmic ray task scientist, but he could not do much more than think things over. After 1 July 1957, finally, the Aeromedical Field Laboratory got back its former right to negotiate contracts for cosmic ray research. In fact specific provision for such contracts was contained in the laboratory's new Project 7857, Research in Extreme Altitude Bio-Sciences, which had just been approved precisely as a means of sponsoring contract research. But the necessary funds were not immediately made available; and, though "in-house" activities were also authorized once more, it would be some time before the program could regain its earlier momentum.18
 
In any event, during the two calendar years 1956 and 1957 just two balloon flights were made specifically for cosmic radiation, bringing the number of such flights since the program began to a grand total of seventy-eight.* These two flights were launched from Holloman early in 1956, in large part as controls for the International Falls flights of 1955. Certain cosmic ray biological experiments were also combined with flight-testing of the Man-High capsule, although not as many as originally hoped. Finally, a series of cosmic ray experiments were combined with Major Simons' own thirty-two hour flight on 19-20 August 1957.
 
Two containers of neurospora mold were flown underneath the Man-High capsule for a study of the genetic effects of cosmic radiation, and Major Simons himself served as a subject for cosmic ray [16] research (among many other things), with three track plates attached to his body as a means of monitoring cosmic ray exposure. At one point it had been decided to send up a monkey inside the capsule, too, not so much to keep Major Simons company as to provide another cosmic ray experiment. The monkey was even selected by Dr. Webb Haymaker, Chief of the Neuropathology Section, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, and shipped from Washington, D. C., to Wright Air Development Center to take part in a final chamber test of the capsule. But at this point the monkey was firmly grounded by order of Colonel John Paul Stapp, Chief of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory.19
 
Major Simons' flight was an unqualified success, but the same cannot be said of all other balloon flights launched in recent years for research in space biology. Despite sharply improved performance as compared with the formative period from 1950 through 1952, this was still a rather unpredictable type of research. There continued to be balloon and capsule failures from time to time even after the technical innovations already described. Or, if recovery was significantly delayed, the biological subjects might die of heat prostration as temperature built up inside their capsule on the ground. Similarly, there were still some flights that were never recovered at all. As late as September 1955, one northern flight flatly refused to cut down and impacted "presumably in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean or northeastern Canada."20 At least there is no record of an aeromedical capsule ever going all the way across the ocean, although some other Holloman balloon packages have attracted attention by landing in Europe or North Africa.21
 
One curious fact is that out of a half dozen flights made in 1952-1954, with an animal capsule expressly devised by New York University for dog passengers, not one was successful. Either the capsule itself failed or something else went wrong every time.22 Even so, the capsule in question was not a total failure for it suggested useful innovations that were incorporated into other aeromedical capsules, and naturally many other flights that fell short of prior specifications contributed useful data of some sort.
 
Above all, techniques improved enough from 1953 to the present to expose a significant number of biological specimens to cosmic radiation and recover them in good shape, thus fulfilling the objective of the cosmic radiation program. Specimens flown at northern latitudes were then compared with controls flown at lower geomagnetic latitude from Holloman Air Force Base, or, as the case might be, with ground controls that were not flown at all but were exposed to environmental conditions roughly similar save in atmospheric radiation to those experienced by balloon-borne specimens. For the latter purpose, an environmental test chamber was prepared and used at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory. Even when all mammalian specimens on one flight died through loss of capsule pressure, it was necessary to reproduce in the test chamber the same extremes of pressure and temperature encountered in flight in order to have ground controls for radish seeds that had accompanied the mammalian specimens.23
 
In the case of radish seeds, scientists of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory were interested in watching their germination in order to detect possible developmental effects of cosmic radiation. They tried to perform roughly the same type of study with fertilized hen eggs only to find that hen eggs made poor test subjects.24 The Holloman laboratory also took charge of mating fruit flies exposed to cosmic radiation in an effort to investigate genetic effects. This branch of study was, to cite Major Simons, of "primary interest to pilots in terms of morale."25 Yet in all the experiments performed "in house" by Holloman aeromedical scientists--including the exposure of Major Simons himself as a test specimen in August 1957--the effects of cosmic radiation have so far proven either negative or simply inconclusive.
 
A relatively small portion of the total research on exposed biological specimens has been performed at Holloman by laboratory personnel. Much of the research has been performed for them by academic investigators, frequently on a contract basis. As mentioned in a previous study, Dr. Berry Campbell of the University of Minnesota received an Air Force contract for neurocytological research during the early stages of the cosmic radiation program, when it was still literally a "field" activity of Wright Air Development Center. Dr. Campbell sought to examine neural tissue for cosmic ray damage, which seemed a promising approach since this tissue is non-regenerative. However, the specimens that he received for examination, from September 1951 to the end of 1953, were not very numerous and offered no conclusive evidence. All those flown before the beginning of northern flights failed even to [17] receive significant cosmic ray exposure. Dr. Campbell also attempted to radiate hamsters with the 184-inch University of California cyclotron at Berkeley, hoping that such experiments would "serve as a model of the cosmic ray events," but this method proved unsatisfactory, apparently because of mechanical difficulties.26
 
Professor Herman B. Chase of Brown University, the second academic research scientist whose collaboration was obtained on a contract basis, was more fortunate. He began exposing mice to cosmic radiation in the fall of 1953 on the flights from Pierre, South Dakota, to study cutaneous effects. He later added guinea pigs, and all his specimens other than controls were flown from northern locations and during a period when flight techniques were improving appreciably. Professor Chase and his Brown associates were thus able to report what are probably the most clear-cut positive effects of cosmic radiation to date: a statistically significant increase in white or grey hairs on black mice and guinea pigs, apparently due to destruction of pigmentation cells by cosmic rays.27
 
Another notable research contract, in this case partly financed by the Atomic Energy Commission, provided physiological and psychological testing for the two monkeys successfully flown from Sault Sainte Marie in 1954. Supplied originally by the Wright Air Development Center, the monkeys spent over seventy hours above 82,000 feet. They were then delivered to Dr. Harry F. Harlow of the University of Wisconsin for a study lasting six months. They received the Wisconsin Appetite Test to detect any possible changes in their fondness for peanuts and raisins, and were subjected to many other tests as well, after which they went to Holloman and there remained for some time under less intensive observation. No evidence of harm from cosmic rays was ever established.28
 
Dr. Jakob A.G. Eugster of Berne, Switzerland, has been a regular, though distant, collaborator in the cosmic radiation program. One of the world pioneers in biological research concerning cosmic rays, Eugster has exposed specimens to radiation by attaching them to weather balloons in Switzerland--which is the only known instance of such research flights in recent years other than those conducted by the Holloman laboratory. He has also sent specimens across the Atlantic to be flown by the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and then returned to him for examination. Part of his research has been financed under contract with the European Office of the Air Research and Development Command. Eugster has not shipped animals from Europe, but has sent over seeds and, most exotic of all, excised pieces of animal skin and human skin (his own) which were reimplanted in their donors after being flown both at Holloman and farther north. Some of these skin segments have shown after-effects from their exposure to cosmic rays, but apparently none of a very serious nature.29
 
Dr. Wilson S. Stone of the University of Texas and Dr. A. Gib DeBusk, formerly at Texas and now with Florida State University, have shown a special interest in the genetic effects of cosmic rays. Neurospora crassa molds were flown on their behalf during the 1955 International Falls flights, and both reported a significant increase in the number of mutants following exposure to cosmic radiation. Subsequently both men joined the ranks of investigators agreeing to do research under contract. Dr. Stone was the lone recipient of an Office of Scientific Research contract during fiscal year 1957, when Holloman was unable to fund such research on its own. Dr. DeBusk, though his contract had technically expired by then, had the signal honor of contributing the neurospora samples that were attached to Major Simons' capsule on the record flight of August 1957.30
 
Another major portion of the research with test specimens exposed on Aeromedical Field Laboratory balloon flights has been accomplished or directed by scientists working for other government institutions. Dr. Webb Haymaker of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology has continued the work of Dr. Berry Campbell on nerve tissue, in collaboration with other scientists both in the United States and abroad. He has flown live mice and guinea pigs and also various tissue cultures. Lieutenant I. J. Lebish, of the same Institute, exposed different strains of mice to cosmic rays and then studied them for radiation-induced leukemia and for effects on longevity and breeding.31
 
Dr. Paul Cibis and Dr. Hubertus Strughold of the School of Aviation Medicine exposed mice on aeromedical flights for a study of possible eye damage, and Dr. Howard Walton of Argonne National Laboratory (operated by the University of Chicago for the Atomic Energy Commission) looked for developmental aberrations in balloon-flown seeds and grasshopper eggs.32 Mr. Robert E. McDaniel at the Army's White Sands Proving Ground, located across the integrated range from [18] Holloman, flew cosmic ray track plates both in rockets from the Proving Ground and on Holloman balloons.33 Much effort has been spent developing techniques for attaching such track plates directly to biological specimens, to correlate specific cosmic ray hits with signs of damage;34 but even when flown unattached, as in the experiments of McDaniel and others, they may help indirectly to clarify the biological significance of cosmic rays. Dr. Herman Yagoda of the National Institutes of Health has attempted an interesting middle course by mounting track plate emulsion on "a human skull padded with foam rubber to simulate soft tissue," then having this odd contraption flown by the Aeromedical Field Laboratory.35
 
This by no means exhausts the list of both government and academic researchers who have participated one way or another in the Aeromedical Field Laboratory cosmic radiation flights. In some cases a flight has been conducted for the researchers, while in other cases they have sent along "hitchhike" loads not related to the primary purpose of a flight but still promising a contribution to knowledge on cosmic rays and their biological effects. Hitchhike loads have even included a number of experimental altimeters, which were welcomed by Major Simons and his associates in view of the benefit to be gained for research ballooning generally through the development of more accurate altitude measurements.36 Some of the off-base collaborators have also made valuable contributions as advisers, in the general management of the cosmic radiation program, and some have turned up in person to take part in the actual flight operations. Dr. Haymaker has even composed a short article, "Operation Stratomouse,"37 giving a lively picture of his own direct participation in the 1955 International Falls flights.
 
The net result of so much collaborative effort has been to turn up relatively few positive signs of cosmic ray effects. Aside from Professor Chase's success in turning mice and guinea pigs prematurely gray, the skin effects produced by Eugster, and the neurospora mutants, which have all been mentioned already, there were some indications of development aberrations among seeds and grasshopper eggs exposed to cosmic radiation for different researchers in 1954 and 1955. Dr. Haymaker also reports what may have been a lesion inflicted by cosmic radiation upon one guinea pig exposed during a Man-High capsule test in November 1956.38
 
There is a chance that additional cosmic radiation effects will be noted when analysis of all experiments conducted so far is completed, and some of the observed effects are still poorly understood. Negative results are often highly inconclusive because of inadequate sampling or exposure. Yet, even with these qualifications, the experimental results have been encouraging. In the case of neural tissue, Major Simons tentatively concluded that "nerve cells either suffer minimal damage . . . or show delayed changes only."39 As for hair-graying, it is certainly a tolerable after-effect; and the genetic effects, while raising a possibility of increased mutations among descendants of space travelers, did not pose any immediate social problem. In general, it could be said that there was some hazard in cosmic rays, as in most everything else, but the risk was not so great as to offset the positive advantages vantages of exploring the vertical frontier.
 
To be sure, much remains to be done in the way of cosmic radiation studies. For proper interpretation of observed effects, some of the cosmic ray experiments should be conducted again with track plates directly attached to the biological specimens. Still longer exposures are likewise in order, especially at the altitude range of 125,000 to 135,000 feet. It does not appear that a significant increase in cosmic ray effects would be found by going much higher than that, which is fortunate since the balloon as a research vehicle must have at least some air in which to float. Animal flights currently planned for the summer of 1958 will of course help to meet these requirements.40 Additional manned flights, too, are necessary before a final assessment of the cosmic radiation problem can be made. In this respect Major Simons' Man-High ascent, which involved much more than cosmic ray research, was only a beginning. Nevertheless, the progress already made in cosmic radiation studies through the efforts of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory forms one of the major achievements of space biology research in recent years.
 

* The figure may be slightly arbitrary, since it is not easy to tell whether some of the early flights were specifically for cosmic ray research; the "Moby Dick" flights, however, are definitely not included

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