August 19, 1957 – Dr. David Simons Sets New Altitude Record

On August 19, 1957, Air Force physician and space flight researcher Dr. David Simons reached a record altitude of 102,000 feet (over 19 miles) above the earth in a telephone-booth-sized, air-conditioned capsule suspended from a helium balloon.  Dr. Simons had conducted earlier experiments with monkeys, mice, guinea pigs, and human volunteers to investigate reactions to weightlessness and the hazards of exposure to primary cosmic radiation.  But in August of 1957, as part of the Air Force’s Man High Project, it was Simons’ turn to experience the world from a vantage point beyond 99% of the earth’s atmosphere.  Life Magazine published an article about the historic flight, “A Journey No Man Had Taken”, during which Dr. Simons conducted  25 experiments armed with cameras, a 5-inch telescope, a tape recorder, a microphone taped to his chest, and photographic cosmic ray bombardment track plates taped to his arms and chest.  He observed the moon and Venus, aurora borealis and cloud formations.  He stated that his most important finding was that with the right equipment, humans could survive at the very edge of space.

Simons took off from a deep, open-pit iron mine in Crosby, Minnesota and landed, 32 hours and 10 minutes later, in a field in South Dakota.  In his Life article, Dr. Simons described seeing a “purplish-black” sky, etched with thin bands of blue.  Thin shells of dust “hovered over the Earth like a succession of halos”.  He later wrote a book, with Don A. Schanche, about his experiences, titled “Man High“.  A sign he posted on the inside of his capsule warned, “Have all the fun you want, but don’t jump up and down”.

In the days after the “high point” of his career, as his commanding officer Col. John Paul Stapp jokingly put it, Dr. David Simons was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.  He continued to conduct research, including studies on radio telemetry for in-flight medical monitoring.  After his retirement, he became fascinated with and researched pain and myofascial trigger points, co-authoring in 1983 a still-standard text on the subject.

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