History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics
The Laboratory Mission and the Project Workload
[91] To be sure, there was no absolute separation even now between the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and its parent organization. For a time, aeromedical officers at Wright Field continued to exercise a certain amount of supervision, formally or informally, over related work at Holloman,4 and at all times, because of many common research interests, collaboration between the two laboratories has been necessary. There are numerous cases in which either one of the two has been specifically assigned a participating role in the other's projects. Nevertheless, for most practical [92] purposes, the Aeromedical Field Laboratory became an independent research organization in January 1953. Indeed, some officers at Wright Field were frankly indifferent toward the cosmic radiation program, with its primary application to ultimate space flight, that was the one active Holloman effort at that time in the field of aeromedical research. They were therefore satisfied for the Aero Medical Laboratory to divest itself of its New Mexico branch. Others may have felt that separation of the two laboratories would lead to some confusion and even duplication of effort, but were apparently reconciled to the move on the ground that it "was necessary to assist [Holloman aeromedical research] in coming of age and being accepted."5
The process of coming of age was greatly aided by the assignment of two new officers to the Aeromedical Field Laboratory: Major (Doctor and later Lieutenant Colonel) David G. Simons and Lieutenant Colonel (Doctor and later Colonel) John Paul Stapp. Both were intent on building up the Holloman mission in biomedical sciences, and both were destined to make a lasting impression not only on the Aeromedical Field Laboratory but on the Center as a whole. The first to be assigned to Holloman was Major Simons, who had visited Holloman before, while still a captain at Wright Field, in connection with a series of V-2 experiments launched from White Sands Proving Ground. After participating in two out of five aeromedical V-2 firings , Simons was transferred to the School of Aviation Medicine; he then performed a tour of duty in the Far East, returned to the United States in 1952, and after a brief tour at Wright Field was reassigned to Holloman. From January 1953 until the Arrival of Colonel Stapp, he was chief of the Holloman aeromedical organization, which had formerly been headed by Lieutenant James D. Telfer. He also took over the mmediate direction of the cosmic radiation balloon flights, and he gave the Aeromedical Field Laboratory the new title-at least briefly-of Space Biology Field Laboratory. This more accurately reflected both his own long-range research interest and the objectives of the continuing cosmic ray program.6
In April 1953, Colonel Stapp was assigned to Holloman and became the new head of the laboratory. Colonel Stapp had already won national recognition in the field of aeromedical research, chiefly for deceleration experiments that he conducted in 1947-1951 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He then served as Chief of the Special Projects Section, Biophysics Branch, of the Aero Medical Laboratory until his assignment to Holloman. Colonel Stapp was particularly happy to accept the assignment since he wished to continue his experiments in deceleration and related fields and felt that the Holloman high-speed test track was the best available facility for his purposes.
In this manner, the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman acquired another research project, entitled Biophysics of Abrupt Deceleration (RDO 695-65), which was an effort of several years' standing originally sponsored by the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Field. Certain aspects of the research effort were now transferred to Holloman, although the precise relationship between Colonel Stapp's work and the laboratory at Wright Field remained for some time a source of confusion. The directive for tests at Holloman on Biophysics of Abrupt Deceleration indicated that work was to be "prosecuted as a part of RDO R695-61, 'Biophysics of Escape from Aircraft' [Project 7218]," which was a Wright Field project; but in practice Colonel Stapp was largely on his own from the moment he reached Holloman. Colonel Stapp saw fit to restore the original name Aeromedical Field Laboratory, which was broad enough to cover both his own proposed research and the work of Doctor Simons, at least until such time as Holloman space biology research literally penetrated outer space.7
Before long, Biophysics of Abrupt Deceleration was transformed and broadened into Project 7850, Biodynamics of Human Factors in Aviation, which was a Holloman project from the beginning. This move was sought by Colonel Stapp as a means of clearly establishing the independence of his own research. It also made specific provision for research on certain topics not covered by his original test directive. The new project was subdivided into: Tolerance to Impact Forces (Task 78503); Tolerance to Total Pressure Change (Task 78504); Tolerance to Abrupt Windblast (Task 78505); Tolerance to Aircraft Crash Forces (Task 78506); and Automotive Crash Forces (Task 78507).8
This general organization remained in effect until early in 1958, when Project 7850 was rewritten to bring it in line with the new emphasis on space exploration. The title now became Biodynamics of Space Flight, although aircraft still received mention in the statement of project objectives: specifically, "dynamic stress characteristics of the human body" are to be [93] studied as affecting the "criteria for design and specifications of aircraft and space vehicles where acceleration, pulsations, impacts, and pressure differentials are imposed under normal and emergency conditions. . . ." For that matter, the automotive crash program remained in the project as Task 78507, and both Tolerance to Impact Forces (Task 78503) and Tolerance to Total Pressure Change (Task 78504) kept their former names and virtually the same statements of aim and method. But Task 78505 now became Tolerance to Ram Pressure and Thermal Effects, and Task 78506 was changed to Patterns of Deceleration in Space Flight.9
Two more changes in the project organization of biodynamics research were proposed at Center level but failed to materialize. In 1956, the proposal was put forward to make the automotive crash program into a separate project of its own. Headquarters, Air Research and Development Command favored the move but it subsequently failed for lack of support at Headquarters, United States Air Force.10 In March 1958, at about the same time that Project 7850 was revised to become Biodynamics of Space Flight, the Aeromedical Field Laboratory submitted the necessary documentation for still another project, to be known as Project 7858, Experimental Pathology of Aircraft Accident Forces. The documentation had scarcely been finished when the name of the proposed project was altered to Space and Air Experimental Pathology, "for clarity of research area involved." It was to investigate many of the same forces that were a subject of study in Project 7850, but whereas Project 7850 sought mainly to establish the limits of voluntary human tolerance, Project 7858 was to be concerned with the "grey zone" between "uninjured survival and lethality." However, the projects were still too much alike to suit higher headquarters. Project 7858 was therefore rejected at command level, mainly on the ground that it was "merely an extension of Project 7850," with certain aspects also representing duplication of work assigned to Wright Air Development Center.11
The project framework of research in space biology has also undergone a series of changes. The balloon flights from 1950 through 1952 (and for that matter the aeromedical Aerobee firings too) had been conducted as part of the project entitled Physiology of Rocket Flight (RDO 695-72, MX-1450R). After Major Simons arrived, a new project was established entitled Biophysics of Cosmic Radiation, which was adapted more specifically to the balloon-borne cosmic ray research in progress at Holloman.12 Finally, in 1954 Holloman space biology research was broadened into Project 7851, Human Factors of Space Flight. In this case the development plan was dated 6 May, and command approval, with minor alterations, was granted on 24 September. The original subdivisions were Radiation Hazards of Primary Cosmic Particles (Task 78500), Subgravity Studies (Task 78501), and Descent and Recovery (Re-entry) which became Task 78502. The latter task, never very active, was eliminated early in 1958, but in 1955 still another task had been added: Environmental Control in Sealed Cabins (Task 78516). This was the task primarily responsible for the Man-High program of high-altitude manned balloon flights.13
A closely related effort is the new Project 7857, which was established at Holloman in the course of 1957. The title originally proposed was Research in Space Bio-Sciences, but the word "space" was still frowned upon at the time in high Defense Department circles, suggesting Buck-Rogerish fantasies and waste of the taxpayers' money. Hence the project was approved at higher echelons with a slight change in name though not in substance, becoming officially Research in Extreme Altitude Bio-Sciences. However, by the early part of 1958, and for obvious reasons, everyone was satisfied to restore the name first proposed by the Aeromedical Field Laboratory.14
Project 7857 was only secondarily concerned with "in-house" research efforts. Chiefly, it provided for the Aeromedical Field Laboratory to direct research on a variety of topics-radiation effects, psychophysiological aspects of weightlessness and sealed cabin environment, and so forth-through contracts with outside investigators. Such contracts had previously been awarded under Projects 7850 and 7851, but the new project envisages a definite increase in contract efforts. It supplements the other projects, and in particular Project 7851; Colonel Simons is currently project officer in both cases, and the task subdivisions of one are mostly related to tasks included in the other. Project 7857 thus broadens the research role of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory even though it does not greatly affect the scope of activities carried on locally. Air Research and Development Command refused to make funds available until full coordination was effected with related projects at other Air Force installations, and no contract had actually been signed under the terms of [94] Project 7857 by the end of 1957. But several were being negotiated even then, and shortly thereafter the program of contract research began in earnest.15
Despite the addition of Project 7857, most of the work of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory still centers around the two earlier Projects 7850 and 7851. Indeed the establishment of these two projects-both created by and for the Aeromedical Field Laboratory-might well be described as the definitive step in the "coming of age" of the Holloman unit. Moreover, there gradually developed an official concept of division of effort between the laboratories at Holloman and Wright Field. The latter was to take charge of short- and medium-term research, including all development of equipment. The Holloman effort was to be devoted to more long-term research, keeping five or more years ahead of actual weapons systems development. Naturally, this official reasoning was not, and was scarcely expected to be, applied literally in all cases. One conspicuous exception was the existence of automotive crash research as a Holloman task. This had no obvious relation to long-range weapons systems development, and investigated (among other things) seat belts and safety devices for immediate use. Nevertheless, the distinction in time phasing did provide a useful frame of reference for planning purposes; and, in practice at any rate, duplication of effort between the two laboratories did not become too serious. General Don D. Flickinger, after becoming Director of Human Factors for Air Research and Development Command in mid-1957, stated that, while some overlapping might exist, it was not a real problem. He also expressed his satisfaction with the continuing independence of the two laboratories.16
Toward the end of 1957, still another concept emerged at command level, to the effect that Wright Air Development Center's Aero Medical Laboratory should become the primary agency for directing biomedical research, with the Air Force Missile Development Center's Aeromedical Field Laboratory serving essentially as a "test center."17 This policy, as adopted by General Flickinger and others in authority, appeared to represent a distinct cutback for the Holloman research mission. However, it was far from clear at the time just what the practical effect would be. For one thing, it became known almost simultaneously that Colonel Stapp was slated to move to Wright Field and become head of the Aero Medical Laboratory there, which he did in April 1958. Any cognizance over Holloman projects that may be vested in Wright Field would still be exercised in large measure by Colonel Stapp, thus guaranteeing a certain continuity. Then, too, the line between research and testing is even harder to draw in aeromedical projects than in missile development, and is subject to varying interpretations to say the least. Finally, it is worth noting that the change in the Aeromedical Field Laboratory's mission was proposed at the same time as important new funds were being made available both for new facilities and for research operations.18
A project that offers obvious complications, if the Aeromedical Field Laboratory is to be conceived primarily as a test center, is the new Project 7857, Research in Space Bio-Sciences. Already the Directorate of Life Sciences (formerly Human Factors) at command headquarters has moved to eliminate some of the tasks of this project. Among those called in question are several that had not been fully activated, and which possibly do represent unnecessary duplication of work being done elsewhere in the command. On the other hand, Task 78530, Psychophysiology of Weightlessness, has also been threatened, despite the fact that it is an integral part of a long-standing Holloman subgravity program that has absolutely no counterpart anywhere in Air Research and Development Command.19 Accordingly, effort that could better be devoted to doing scientific research must be diverted to arguing over research responsibilities-a state of affairs that has been regrettably common in the brief history of the command, and not only in the area of life sciences.
Even while the Aeromedical Field Laboratory was entering a period of some uncertainty with regard to its official mission, members of the laboratory's staff were being called upon to take a prominent role in Air Force-wide and interservice efforts for placing man in space. During his last months as head of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory, Colonel Stapp spent much of his time at command headquarters helping General Flickinger to draft the Air Force's own "Man in Space" program. Colonel Simons, who again became chief of the laboratory on Colonel Stapp's departure, has served as chairman of the interservice Biosatellite Coordination Committee. Other Holloman aeromedical scientists have been assigned to the same Committee, as well as participating in various inter-agency projects for the use of ballistic-type missiles in biological research. Such inter-agency and interservice [95] projects have helped create a critical condition of overwork among the Holloman staff members. But the Holloman role in such endeavors is one reason why the Aeromedical Field Laboratory's research and development program in fiscal year 1958 was funded at more than $2,000,000, as compared with $260,000 in fiscal 1956.20