December 18, 2014

1965. The Space Age

Hope for the Future
Source: "U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard helicopter over the Gemini 3 space capsule flown by astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young after it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, 23 March 1965."

March 24, 1965


While the nation was cheering the successful recovery of astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young yesterday, the National Space Administration here in Washington announced the award of more than $2.5 million in space research grants to various colleges and universities across the country.

More than a million and a half dollars of this money is going into investigation and experimentation with what the interplanetary experts call "life support systems." That is, exploring ways of keeping future astronauts alive and operating on long-range probes into the unknown. This new scientific endeavor covers a multitude of things and is called "bioengineering."

The scientists want to know, for example, if it might be possible to establish some kind of greenhouse on some meteorite or space station to raise food for future explorers. Organic cosmo-chemistry, they call it.

And these far-out experts also are concerned about what weightlessness and cosmic rays will do to the shape and size of the future astronaut who might spend years on a space mission. They don't know whether man can live for long without some sort of gravity keeping his innards pulled into their proper place.

One of the main experiments performed in yesterday's Gemini flight was to fertilize the eggs of the sea urchin to see what the effects of weightlessness and controlled radiation has on these simple cell systems. Eventually these findings may be valuable in assessing the feasibility of possibly sending out colonies of men and women astronauts, maybe to continue our civilization on some other habitable planet in some universe.

Laughable? Maybe -- but our great grandfathers would have laughed too if told that continents could talk across oceans by bouncing radio signals against the sky; or that whole nations could erase tuberculosis and polio from their lands; that the horse and the mule would become technologically unemployed; or that man could transmit close-up electronic pictures of the moon -- live -- into millions of American living rooms, as many of us witnessed today.

The experience of our astronauts at Cape Kennedy and their pioneering cosmonaut contemporaries in Russia indicates that we must produce a new kind of man to match this newest and greatest challenge. In fact, the Gus Grissoms and John Youngs in the American space program are different from ordinary mortals when they enter their space capsules. They wear a second skin to guard against excessive G-forces. They breathe their own capsuled atmosphere inside their helmets; electronic contacts strapped on their skin measure their physical and sometimes their mental and emotional reactions to their flight. They are wired for sound, able to answer questions and radio their own instructions to listening posts around the world. Although they are the most isolated members of our society while in orbit -- at the same time, their myriad electronic connections with earth also make them the most public men of our time.

Now some scientists are talking privately of making up a pool of potential space explorers and training them from youth for adventures into the universe. Since we inoculate our young children to protect them from smallpox, and since we prescribe glasses to correct eye defects, these scientists say, "Why not insert a tiny radio transmitter unobtrusively under the skin to give constant reports to a parent or a doctor of a child's temperature, respiration, and even his brainwave reactions to stress, emotion, and other environmental influences?"

After all, people today are walking around with artificial valves in their hearts, with plastic veins in their legs -- and women, particularly, employ certain artificial aids to add or take a curve away here and there.

Personally, we don't care to have our own emotional responses transistorized, and our blood temperature and respiration remains our own business.

But we like our women shapely, no matter how they do it. We're looking forward to the first American lady astronaut. Cape Kennedy can take it from there.

This is Bill Downs, substituting for Edward P. Morgan, saying good night from Washington.