History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics
3. Project Man-High
[18] Another area of broad achievement in space biology research at the Air Force Missile Development Center--even more dramatic in many ways than the program of cosmic radiation studies--has been the actual placing of human beings into a non-artificial space-equivalent environment. As balloon techniques steadily improved, and as the possible dangers from cosmic rays were brought more and more into [19] proper perspective by the animal flights, it was only natural for the Aeromedical Field Laboratory to consider manned balloon ascents. These would be an entirely logical outgrowth of the earlier cosmic radiation flights. Manned flights, however, would combine still other advantages. There was a broad range of upper atmospheric investigations that could best be handled by a human observer at high altitude. There was also an urgent need for improvements in manned capsule or sealed-cabin environments, not only for the design of high-performance aircraft--including experimental rocket planes--but also as a step toward a manned satellite and true space flight. A manned balloon flight was one of the best ways of testing such improvements and of finding out if man is capable, physically and psychologically, of extended travel at space-equivalent altitude.
Concrete consideration of a manned flight began in mid-1955. Colonel John Paul Stapp and Major David G. Simons of the Holloman Aeromedical Field Laboratory, and Mr. Otto C. Winzen, head of Winzen Research, Incorporated, discussed the prospect at length, the latter two taking time out from balloon flights they were conducting in northern Minnesota at the time. All agreed that a twenty-four-hour manned flight at about 115,000 feet was feasible. At the end of August 1955, Colonel John Talbot, Chief of the Human Factors Division, Headquarters, Air Research and Development Command, gave tentative approval to the project.41
As conceived by Colonel Stapp and Major Simons, the Holloman manned-balloon project would avoid as far as possible mere duplication of work being accomplished elsewhere. Colonel Stapp observed that they did not intend either to "trespass on other people's research territory" or to "have track meets in the sky."42 There was, of course, no comparison between a high-altitude manned balloon flight and occasional flights to similar altitude by experimental aircraft, since the latter can remain there only briefly, not long enough for intensive experimentation. The Navy had its own program for high-altitude research with manned balloons, and a man-carrying gondola "Stratolab" already in existence. But the Navy program had been until recently in a state of suspended animation; the Navy did not plan to go as high; and its research objectives were less broad than those the Aeromedical Field Laboratory had in mind.43
Nor, finally, did the Holloman scientists have any desire to compete with the manned-balloon program that formed part of Project 7218, Biophysics of Escape, an activity of Wright Air Development Center's Aero Medical Laboratory. At least for the present, that program was not real ly concerned with space biology. It was interested mainly in high-altitude escape problems, and it had been plagued with difficulties that made uncertain just when its first actual manned ascent would take place. The Wright Field program was supposed ultimately to produce another balloon-borne research laboratory, and in fact there was room for several of these. But when and if the Aero Medical Laboratory set to work on this final stage of its program, it would be able to draw on experience already accumulated at Holloman without going through all the same experimental steps. Meanwhile, the Holloman program could also profit from knowledge and experience available at Wright Field, especially in the field of high-altitude parachute systems.44
In its early stages, the Holloman manned-balloon program was called Project Daedalus, a name later changed to Man-High. It was also referred to, originally, as "the manned balloon phase of Task 500, that is, of cosmic radiation studies. Before long--January 1956 at the latest--command headquarters decided that a manned flight could not be justified and funded purely under this heading, but, as already noted, there was no lack of alternative justifications. Planning and preparations went right on, chiefly under the auspices of Task 78516, Environmental Control in Sealed Cabins, which was formally established as a separate task in the latter part of 1955. Captain Druey P. Parks and Captain Erwin R. Archibald have both served as task scientists, either separately or together. At present the position is held by Captain Archibald. However, Major Simons himself has always been the primary project officer for Daedalus/Man-High, with Captains Parks and Archibald as his deputies.45
Assigning the manned balloon program primarily to Task 78516 was completely appropriate, if not almost inevitable, since the most complex problem to be faced was the design and fabrication of a sealed capsule suitable for high-altitude flight for a day or more. The successful development of Aeromedical Field Laboratory animal capsules pointed the way, and so did the Navy's "Stratolab," which had been designed largely by Mr. Winzen. Yet specifications for the proposed capsule. . . . .

383428 -- Schematic artist's drawing of the USAF-Winzen Research Inc. MAN-HIGH gondola showing location of internal instruments and components. Pilot normally breathes the oxygen-helium capsule atmosphere. Equivalent cabin altitude can be selected on the panel. The MAN-HIGH capsule is a minimum weight vehicle for one-man flights to altitudes in excess of 100,000 feet and for durations in excess of 24 hours permitting night and day observations and studies of human factors in space medicine. The Winzen Research MAN-HIGH capsule is the first true space cabin and will serve as a research vehicle for the study of requirements for manned space flight.
(Drawing and Caption by Winzen Research)

[21] were more complex than for either animal capsules or "Stratolab," and even greater precision was required. Accordingly, a special contract was drawn up for the design, fabrication, and maintenance or modification "during the flight test period" of the needed balloon-capsule system. The contract was awarded to Winzen Research, Incorporated of Minneapolis, effective 9 November 1955.46
This same contract had been sought by General Mills, the other leading balloon manufacturer, and unfortunately some hard feelings arose when Winzen won the assignment. It was necessary for Holloman's Directorate of Procurement, the contracting agency, to explain that no aspersion was intended upon the technical qualifications of the General Mills organization, but that the other proposal showed closer attention to details and in general what seemed to be a superior approach in its specific suggestions for the undertaking. Numerous supplemental agreements were added to the contract from time to time, making detailed changes in the capsule plans and expanding the scope of the required flight-testing. One such agreement provided that Winzen Research should be responsible for launch, tracking, and recovery of both the test flights and the definitive manned flight.47
The original contract with Winzen Research called for completion of the capsule by 31 January 1956, and completion of flight-testing on or before 15 March. The definitive flight had originally been set for the spring of 1956.48 Like most tentative deadlines, all these proved overly optimistic. Since funds were short for the command human factors program, Daedalus/ Man-High had to take whatever snatches and installments were available, even if it meant stretching out deadlines. Command officials gave their final approval to the project in March 1956, on the basis of revised justification demoting cosmic ray research to a secondary role; but approval in itself did not pay any bills, and funds were thus a continuing problem. Meanwhile, Captain Edward G. Sperry, co-holder of the world's high-altitude parachute jump record, became coordinator for the project at Headquarters, Air Research and Development Command.49
Coordination was also effected with Wright Air Development Center, where officers of Project 7218 offered some criticism of the plans on technical grounds. There also appears to have been some feeling among people at Wright Field (initially, at least) that the Holloman manned-balloon program represented a duplication of effort with their own. In practice, however, duplication was kept to a minimum, and the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Field made a number of valuable suggestions and contributions to the program. In addition, Air Research and Development Command specifically assigned the responsibility for final approval of the personal and capsule-recovery parachute equipment to specialists of Wright Air Development Center's Equipment Laboratory.50
Coordination was required with still other agencies and institutions, but naturally the greatest amount of time and effort went into development and testing of the balloon-capsule system itself. As the work progressed, officials of Winzen Research and of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory incorporated additional mechanical improvements and safety features. Then, too, as already noted, provision was later made for more testing than originally specified. The growing scale and complexity of the operation is graphically reflected in the various revisions of estimated contract cost, which ultimately rose from the rough figure of $29,950 used in November 1955 to $235,590.30 (including fixed fee of $3300). To be sure, these figures are not strictly comparable, one obvious difference being that the original estimate was not intended to cover any launch, tracking, and recovery services. Also the contract costs would have been less--Major Simons guesses about $75,000 less--if funds had always been available just when needed. Over and above the contract figure, Winzen Research agreed to assume $14,178 more from company resources.51
Compared to the price of an intercontinental missile, a manned-balloon project was still relatively low-cost research. It was expensive mainly in comparison with the earlier animal flights, whose cost when launched at Holloman was estimated in March 1954 at between $5,000 and $10,000 each.52 The latter estimate is for the total cost including Air Force manhours, whereas the Winzen contract figures naturally cover expenditures only by the private firm.
The Man-High capsule as it finally emerged from so much intensive research and development was an aluminum-alloy structure eight feet in height. It had six portholes, one of them equipped with a mirror system enabling the pilot to see either above or below the capsule. Instruments for recording a wide variety of scientific data were on an inside photo

Man-High (I) Flight About to End In Minnesota Brook

[23] panel, with a camera mounted opposite to photograph the panel at set intervals throughout the flight. A special microphone was included, designed to monitor the pilot's heart beat. There was also a magnetic tape recorder with which he would preserve his own visual and psychological impressions.
All told, there were so many electric components on board that the heat they gave off, plus the pilot's body heat, made a separate heating system unnecessary. Daytime cooling was still needed, and was provided by basically the same boiling-water method used on earlier animal flights. The sealed cabin atmosphere was a newly-devised oxygen-helium-nitrogen combination. The pilot had different emergency oxygen systems to fall back on, and a similar array of safety features was available for possible emergency descent. Under normal conditions, the pilot would come down by valving gas out of the balloon. If this method should fail (or if the balloon itself should ever fall) the capsule could separate from the balloon and descend by its own cargo parachute. Should the capsule parachute fail, the pilot might still bail out with his high-altitude personal parachute.53
The required f1ight-testing of this balloon-capsule system was of course one of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of the entire undertaking. A single test flight did not take long, but preparations were another matter, and weather often caused frustrating delays. In order to test the capsule temperature control and atmosphere systems, preliminary flights were launched carrying a sufficient number of small animal passengers to approximate one human occupant. The animals served, secondarily, as cosmic radiation subjects. Other balloon and gondola equipment was also checked out during the flight-test phase, and on one flight a dummy drop was staged from high altitude to test the pilot's personal parachute system. All this was in addition to assorted ground tests. There were even water tests of the Man-High capsule to make sure that it could, if necessary, execute a safe water landing.54
The first manned ascent--and final test flight--was held on 2 June 1957. It might have been expected that the first human passenger would be Major Simons, who was eagerly awaiting the chance to do himself what he had been sending mice and guinea pigs to do for several years. However, Major Simons was held in reserve for the full-scale research flight. For the preliminary manned test flight, Colonel Stapp chose Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, a young but highly experienced jet pilot assigned to the Center's Flight Test Division. Since Kittinger was a test pilot by profession, Colonel Stapp felt he would be ideally suited for the assignment. Even so, the captain had to take months of additional training for this one flight. Among other things, he took enough parachute training to qualify officially as a paratrooper; had a claustrophobia test; and practiced ballooning in low-altitude, open-gondola flights, using the "Sky Car" developed specifically for low-altitude balloon flights by Winzen Research, Incorporated. These "Sky Car" flights were also used to check out certain items of equipment.55
At 0623 hours on 2 June, Captain Kittinger's Man-High (I) flight began, from Fleming Field, South Saint Paul, Minnesota. A Winzen crew conducted the launching, as provided by the Man-High contract, in collaboration with members of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and other units at Holloman. The 475th Air Base Squadron, Minneapolis, provided additional helicopter support. The vehicle was a two-million-cubic-foot plastic balloon, 172.6 feet in diameter, which quickly reached the planned ceiling altitude of 95,000 feet, setting a new record for manned balloons . Test specifications called for a twelve-hour flight. However, because of an oxygen leak (due to an improperly connected valve) and also certain communications difficulties, Colonel Stapp and Mr. Winzen decided that Captain Kittinger should come down after not quite two hours at altitude. The balloon pilot was not happy with the decision, replying by radio, "Come and get me." But he did come down, and landed successfully at 1257 hours none the worse for his experience.56
The capsule was pronounced sound, despite the minor difficulties that had arisen. Nevertheless, before the next flight it was given one final test in a high-altitude pressure chamber at Wright Air Development Center, after which certain minor modifications but no basic design changes were made.57 Special instrumentation was added as required by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale for the purpose of establishing an official world's altitude record; this had not been done for the June flight, which accordingly set an "unofficial" record only. The capsule was also fitted out with a five-inch telescope for astronomical observations, another noteworthy new item of equipment. Indeed, the Man-High capsule was now more than ever a floating scientific laboratory."

Man-High (II) Launching, 19 August 1957

[25] At least twenty-five distinct scientific experiments were to be performed on the definitive manned flight, involving everything from physical data on the upper atmosphere to whatever psychological reactions the pilot might wish to transcribe on the capsule's tape recorder.58
The most important single scientific instrument was Major Simons himself, who meanwhile had received his special training for the flight. He took only one parachute jump, but otherwise the process was much the same as it had been for Captain Kittinger. Like Kittinger, Major Simons was also subjected to complete physical examination in order to establish a basis of comparison with his post-flight physical condition. This included blood and urine samples--to be compared with post-flight samples--as part of a special study of adrenal response to stress. However, Major Simons was bled for at least one more experiment than Kittinger, because this time special arrangements had been made with Dr. R. Lowry Dobson of the University of California to investigate the possible appearance of bilobed lymphocytes in the pilot's blood as a result of cosmic radiation. This was a phenomenon that had already been noted in the blood of workers exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation at the University of California cyclotron.59
The actual launch did not take place until 19 August, but the final gathering of men and equipment began some days earlier. Preparations were even more elaborate than for the Kittinger flight. The Army sent two helicopters with their crews to aid in tracking and recovery; and since the Navy not only supplied helium for the balloon but made available (as often before) the ground vehicles and other equipment that it had assigned to Winzen Research for use with naval research flights, the project became a truly interservice affair. The aircraft contingent was completed with a Navion belonging to Winzen Research, two Air Force helicopters borrowed locally, and two C-47's from Holloman. Captain Kittinger returned to Minnesota as coordinator of air support operations, although he did not remain for the flight itself. His place was taken on 19 August by Major Hubert S. Williams, at that time Commander of Holloman's 6580th Field Maintenance Squadron.60
The Aeromedical Field Laboratory sent a large contingent of officers and enlisted men, headed by Colonel Stapp in the role of flight surgeon. He was to monitor Major Simons' physical condition before, during, and after the flight. Captain Parks and Captain Archibald were both on hand as assistant Man-High project officers. Lieutenant Kuehn as cosmic ray task scientist came along to care for the neurospora and track plates that were to accompany the capsule. Lieutenant Colonel John W. McCurdy, Information Services Officer at Holloman, came to take charge of press and public relations, in collaboration with Major Kenneth E. Grine from Headquarters, Air Research and Development Command and Mr. Joseph C. Groth, Jr., of Winzen Research. The Holloman Balloon Branch sent Mr. Bernard D. Gildenberg, Chief of its Technical Support Section, to act as meteorologist, and Master Sergeant Nabor Martinez, a communications specialist. Even one of the Center historians arrived on the scene, to record history as it happened.61
From Wright Field came Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Hessberg, Chief of the Biophysics Branch, Aero Medical Laboratory, whose special mission was to ride in one of the tracking planes and be on hand as paramedic in any case of emergency. The 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron, Lookout Mountain Laboratory, California, sent a camera crew; and command headquarters sent not only Major Grine but also Major E. F. Smith with a band of six air policemen. The function of the latter was to guide project people, reporters, and very important persons to their assigned stations at the launch site, and to control any passers-by who might catch sight of the launch operations and stop to look.62
The exact site chosen for the launch was the 425-foot open pit of an iron mine outside Crosby, Minnesota, belonging to the M. A. Hanna Company. The pit-launch method afforded protection from winds, which particularly was necessary because of the greater size of the balloon used on this flight. To be exact, the balloon had a capacity of over three million cubic feet and was 200.2 feet in diameter when completely expanded by gas at floating altitude. Its total height at the time of inflation (including capsule and suspension system) was 350 feet.63
Among the first to arrive at Crosby were Major Smith and his air police, who startled local citizens when they were deposited by helicopter in the middle of the town park the afternoon of 15 August. The Winzen launch crew arrived the same day, since it was hoped originally to start the flight on the morning of 16 August. Unfortunately, it was postponed twice because of predicted bad weather, but for 19 August the outlook seemed favorable. [26] Major Simons entered his capsule late the night before at the Winzen plant in Minneapolis. He was sealed in and at once began pre-breathing of the special capsule atmosphere, which served to remove excess nitrogen from his bloodstream and thus gave protection against an attack of the "bends" in case emergency decompression should occur at high altitude. After a final check at the plant established that equipment was in working order, the capsule with Simons in it was piled on a truck and began the trip to Crosby, arriving shortly before daybreak.
The launch was delayed again at the last minute when a segment of reefing sleeve failed to come off and formed a band around the neck of the balloon. Mrs. Vera Winzen climbed a ladder held by guy wires and cut the band. Finally, at 0922 hours, the balloon took off and rose rapidly until after two hours and eighteen minutes it reached floating altitude of about 100,000 feet. Peak altitude for the flight was 102,000 feet, a new record but less than the 115,000 mentioned at the inception of the Man-High project. Additional experiments, equipment, and ballast had all added to the weight of the balloon-capsule system and correspondingly lowered its altitude capability.64
The balloon drifted slowly westward during the day, but began to sink as the helium gas cooled after sundown. Indeed, it sank more than expected because unforeseen stormy weather cut off the reflected heat of the earth. Early in the morning of 20 August, the balloon was caught in a downdraft and fell to about 70,000 feet. At that point Major Simons found himself directly over a raging thunderstorm--something that had never before been known to occur at such an elevation. Accordingly, he dropped ballast to get out of danger, and soon after sunrise was again near ceiling altitude.65
The flight was originally expected to drift westward to the area of Miles City, Montana, but movement was slower than anticipated and the balloon never got beyond the eastern part of the Dakotas. The flight was supposed to terminate in an approximately twenty-four hours, but this did not happen either. It dragged on almost a half day longer, as Major Simons in his balloon capsule and tracking parties on the ground looked for a suitable opening in the clouds through which to descend. The capsule served as a floating weather station and, in general, Major Simons' own weather observations during the flight were more accurate than any data available below.
The delay in ending the flight led to several problems in capsule environment. The effectiveness of chemicals in the air regeneration system began to decline, carbon dioxide was not absorbed fast enough, and at regular intervals Major Simons had to use a face mask for breathing. With power supply also running low, it was necessary to cut off the capsule cooling system, and temperature rose to eighty-four degrees. This was extremely uncomfortable when clad in a pressure suit, which Simons was wearing for any emergency. Fortunately, in the early afternoon Simons was able to begin a steady rate of descent. He landed at 1732 hours, in an alfalfa field in northeast South Dakota, and was immediately stuck with a hypodermic needle for another blood sample. The flight had lasted thirty-two hours and ten minutes, but Simons had actually been forty-four hours in the capsule, including the time spent in it before launch. As Mr. Winzen was quick to point out, this was longer than the time spent by Charles A. Lindberg in the first solo flight over the Atlantic.66
Though tired, having had only brief snatches of sleep, Major Simons emerged from the ordeal in good shape. He had a slight abrasion on his neck from the tight pressure suit, but if he suffered any serious ill effects they were slow in appearing. Colonel Stapp therefore concluded, "Human performance in an environment equivalent to space is now known to be possible."67 The full, detailed scientific results of the flight were not immediately available, as it would take time to analyze and interpret all the data obtained. The most important information immediately available, other than the mere fact that the flight proved feasible without apparent harm to the subject, was what Simons personally observed and reported--either on tape or by radio during the flight, or in discussion after it.
Simons caught the attention of the press with his observation that the stars did not twinkle, and much was then said and written about having to revise nursery rhymes. Major Simons was in fact greatly interested in his visual observations of the sky at high altitude, in which he displayed latent poetic qualities as well as keen scientific insight. At one point he recorded on the capsule tape his impression of "a very dark foreboding blue that grades off into a slight gray," and he was delighted by the spectacle of sunrise and sunset at the top of the earth's atmosphere.68
[27] For their part in the success of Project Man-High, both Major Simons and Captain Kittinger received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Major Simons received the award directly from Lieutenant General Samuel E. Anderson, Commander of the Air Research and Development Command, on 24 August 1957. Captain Kittinger received his award shortly afterward.69 Both men also received a sudden wave of national acclaim and recognition. The tribute accorded to Major Simons, in particular, was comparable to that which greeted Colonel Stapp after his series of rides in 1954 on the Holloman high-speed track.
In all the excitement over the Man-High flights, however, the continuing research efforts on Task 78516, Environmental Control in Sealed Cabins, should not be overlooked. This one subdivision of Project 7851 provided the main technical justification for Man-High, but the task was not established purely for the sake of any one or two manned balloons. Under the immediate direction of Captain Archibald as task scientist, the task program touches on problems that are important for all types of manned vehicles traveling at extreme altitude or in space. It includes long-term research on claustrophobia and related problems, using (among other things) a simulated capsule mock-up at Holloman, adrenal response to stress; physiological effects of inert gases, to determine the best composition for sealed cabin atmospheres; and flammability problems, again in relation to the choice of sealed cabin atmospheres.
The Man-High project naturally accumulated experimental data on all four of these major problem areas, while at the same time research already accomplished by Task 78516 made an important contribution to the success of the Man-High flights. The same close interplay between particular manned ascents and long-term studies of sealed cabin environment is expected in future flight programs. Meanwhile, a contract investigation on inert gases has been entrusted to Dr. S. F. Cook of the University of California at Berkeley, and a research contract on adrenal response to stress is being established.70
Moreover, it was clear that the success of Man-High opened up important new opportunities for high-altitude research. By the end of 1957, therefore, Colonel Stapp, Major Simons, and their colleagues were engaged in detailed negotiations with higher headquarters over the exact steps to be taken next. The prospects included both new flights with the existing Man-High capsule, which was perfectly reusable, and the development of even bigger and better "floating scientific laboratories." As early as April 1957, Winzen Research, Incorporated submitted an "unsolicited proposal" for a balloon-borne "Satelorb" research platform capable of weeklong flights with five or more men at 100,000 feet. This would have the great advantage over a one-man capsule of permitting individual specialization on balloon piloting and on different research functions.71 A two-man version of the Man-High capsule, with room for a pilot and a full-time scientific observer, was another alternative less elaborate than "Satelorb" but easier to obtain on short notice.72 And, of course, the ultimate outgrowth of the manned balloon capsule could be only one thing: a manned satellite.
Whenever the United States achieves the manned satellite--or human flight still farther into space--it will be no exaggeration to say that a significant portion of the preliminary work has been accomplished by the Air Force Missile Development Center. Nor has the Center's contribution been solely in the areas of cosmic ray research and high-altitude capsule development; as indicated at the outset, contributions in other fields will be discussed in later studies. Truly, the period from 1953 through 1957 was one of major advances in space biology research both for the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and for the entire Air Force Missile Development Center.