Hubertus Strughold – the Father of Space Medicine

NASA Medical Monitoring

NASA Medical Monitoring

On June 15, 1898, German-born physiologist and prominent medical researcher Hubertus Strughold was born. For his role in pioneering the study of the physical and psychological effects of manned spaceflight he became known as “The Father of Space Medicine“. In the late 1920’s, he began investigating the physiological aspects of what he called the “vertical frontier” in Germany. He served as chief of Aeromedical Research for the German Luftwaffe throughout World War II. In 1947 he was brought to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip and held a series of high-ranking medical positions in both the US Air Force and NASA.

Hubertus Strughold studied medicine and natural science at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Georg August University of Göttingen. He received a medical degree from the University of Münster and in 1927 completed his habilitation at the University of Würzburg, where he was appointed professor of physiology. Early in his career was Strughold interested in the science of aviation medicine and traveled to the United States as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow and conducted research on aviation medicine and physiology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and the University of Chicago.

In the 1930s, the government of Nazi Germany appointed Strughold to serve as the director of the Research Institute for Aviation Medicine, which became one of Germany’s best aeromedical research institutions. The establishment pioneered in various fields including the study of the medical effects of high-altitude and supersonic speed flight. After the start of World War II, the institute was absorbed into the German Luftwaffe and Hubertus Strughold was commissioned as an officer in the German air force. It is believed that as part of their research, prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were used as human test subjects. Many of them lost their lives during these experiments and to this day, it is not completely known to what extent Strughold was involved in the planning of the experiments.

After the war, Hubertus Strughold became director of the Physiological Institute at Heidelberg University and also began working on behalf of the US Army Air Force. He was brought to the United States in 1947 as part of Operation Paperclip, and he began conducting some of the first research into the potential medical challenges posed by space travel, in conjunction with fellow ‘Paperclip Scientist’ Heinz Haber. One year later, Strughold coined the term space medicine and was appointed the first and only Professor of Space Medicine at the US Air Force’s newly established School of Aviation Medicine. In the 1950s, Strughold managed to revolutionize the so far existing notions concerning spaceflight when he co-authored the research paper Where Does Space Begin?. In it, the scientist proposed that space was present in small gradations that grew as altitude levels increased, rather than existing in remote regions of the atmosphere. The scientist obtained US citizenship in 1956 and was named chief scientist of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Aerospace Medical Division in 1962.

During his work at NASA, Strughold was subject of several government investigations for his work during World War II. Strughold’s alleged connection to the Dachau experiments became more widely known following the release of US Army Intelligence documents from 1945 that listed him among those being sought as war criminals by US authorities, which caused a great damage to the scientist’s reputation and the revocation of several honors that he received during his lifetime. For example, the German Society of Air and Space Medicine abolished a major award bearing Strughold’s name.

At yovisto academic video search you can learn more about ‘Test Flying the Space Shuttle‘ in a lecture by Gordon Fullerton.

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