Testing the Limits: Aviation Medicine and the Origins of Manned Space Flight

Overview


In 1958 the United States launched its first satellite and created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to oversee its new space program. By 1961 NASA was confident enough to put a human being into space. But how had it acquired enough medical knowledge to ensure an astronaut’s safety in just three years? It hadn’t. The credit goes instead to decades of military medical research.

Witnessing the first German missile attack on London in 1944, U.S. Army flight ...

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Overview


In 1958 the United States launched its first satellite and created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to oversee its new space program. By 1961 NASA was confident enough to put a human being into space. But how had it acquired enough medical knowledge to ensure an astronaut’s safety in just three years? It hadn’t. The credit goes instead to decades of military medical research.

Witnessing the first German missile attack on London in 1944, U.S. Army flight surgeon Harry Armstrong had been immediately concerned that aeronautical engineers would transform the A-4 (V-2) into a vehicle for transporting soldiers. He vowed, as founder (in 1934) of the military’s only aviation human-factors research lab, to make such trips survivable. Efforts at Wright Field and the army’s School of Aviation Medicine, which Armstrong had also turned into a world-class research institution, were the real reason for the successful start to America’s manned space program.

In Testing the Limits, Maura Phillips Mackowski describes the crucial foundational contributions of military flight surgeons who routinely risked their lives in test aircraft, research balloons, pressure chambers, rocket-propelled sleds, or parachute harnesses. Drawing on rare primary sources and interviews, she also reveals the little-known but vital contributions of German emigré scientists whose expertise in areas unknown to Americans created a hybrid specialty: space medicine. She reveals new details on human aeromedical experimentation at Dachau, Washington’s decision to limit astronaut status to males, and the choice to freeze the air force out of the research specialty it had created and brought to fruition.

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Editorial Reviews

Margaret A. Weitekamp

“The author demonstrates a flair for drama and description. Using key details and well-told anecdotes, she evokes sympathy for the humor and pathos of the scientists’ lives and careers. In doing so, she succeeds in recognizing the life in what could be, in lesser hands, a dull recitation of experiments and promotions. . . . captures the excitement and human drama of aviation and space medicine.”--Margaret A. Weitekamp, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Technology and Culture
. . . a thoroughly researched work making excellent use of archives and oral history . . . .Mackowski's account resounds with the kind of thrilling stories for which basic cable was invented . . . .
Air Power History
A brilliant piece of scholarship. . . . Mackowski's book belongs in every space historian's library. . . . Seldom does one find in scholarly literature a book as easy and enjoyable to read as Testing the Limits.
The Journal of American History
Maura Phillips Mackowski has filled a critically important gap in the literature of American aerospace history. . . . The author provides a compelling narrative overview of the development of aviation medicine in the United States. . . . Testing the Limits is an important and engrossing story, well told in very lively prose. Specialists and general readers alike will find it difficult to put down.
Book Reviews
One cannot help but find Testing the Limits an important contribution to aerospace history and the history of medicine.
Space Times
...demonstrates outstanding scholarship in the exploration of the history of American military aviation medicine.
ISIS

Testing the Limits introduces its readers to a broader understanding of the military and medicine's role in the development of aviation. It is an important story that aviation and space historians as well as historians of science often overlook. . . . One cannot help but find Testing the Limits an important contribution to aerospace history and the history of medicine.

Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine

. . . certainly a must-read for any practitioner of aerospace medicine or its allied fields, as well as anyone with an interest in the history of scientific thought.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585444397
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2005
  • Series: Centennial of Flight Series, #15
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


For more than ten years, Maura Phillips Mackowski, who holds a Ph.D. in history, worked as a freelance writer covering high-tech topics, particularly centered on aerospace. Now a resident of Gilbert, Arizona, she teaches history at Arizona State University.
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Table of Contents

1 The Americans 11
2 The Germans 39
3 World War II 69
4 The paperclips 105
5 The fastest man alive 137
6 Organizing for space 173
7 "Detailed to NASA" 199
Epilogue : out in the cold 214
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