Geek Of The Week: William Randolph Lovelace

Geek Of The Week: William Randolph Lovelace

William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace was an American physician who made contributions to aerospace medicine.

He studied medicine at the Harvard Medical School and graduated in 1934. His residences were served at New York’s Bellevue Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He then went to Europe for further study.

Having an interest in aviation, he became Flight Surgeon with the rank of First Lieutenant in Army Medical Corps Reserve. He began studying the problems of high-altitude flight, and in 1938 the Aeromedical Field Laboratory located at Wright Field requested him to develop an oxygen-mask for use in high-altitude aircraft.

It was in 1940 that he first met Jacqueline Cochran, a female pilot who held three women’s speed records. The two would form a lifelong friendship. With Cochran’s influence, Lovelace developed a research program focusing on women’s capabilities for spaceflight. Lovelace believed women could be highly suitable for space because they were smaller and lighter for small space vehicles. Lovelace used his privately owned clinic to test twenty-five women. The women who were chosen all had to fulfill Lovelace’s requirements: be under the age of 35, in good health, hold a second class medical certificate, have a bachelor’s degree, hold and FAA commercial pilot rating or better, and have over 2,000 hours of flying time. Prior to beginning testing, Lovelace’s women had to undergo thorough examinations which included numerous x-rays and four hour eye exams. The women’s bodies were physically tested by using special stationary bikes to test their respiration and ice water was shot into their ears to induce vertigo to see how quickly the women could recover. Twelve of Lovelace’s women were chosen but testing ended suddenly due to the United States Navy no longer granting them a testing facility.

During World War II he served in the Air Force. He personally performed experiments in escape and the use of the parachute at high-altitude. On 24 June 1943 he bailed out of an aircraft flying at 40,200 feet.[3] After the parachute opened he was knocked unconscious, and he suffered frostbite when his gloves were ripped off. For this test he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1947 he helped establish the Lovelace Medical Foundation, currently known as the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, in Albuquerque, and became the chairman of the Board of Governors. He used this clinic to promote the development of medical aerospace technology.

In 1958 he was appointed the chairman of the NASA Special Advisory Committee on Life Science. As head of NASA’s Life Sciences, he would then play a key role in the selection of the astronauts chosen for the Mercury program missions. In 1959 he also began examinations to determine the physical suitability of women candidates for the astronaut training program. In 1964 he was appointed NASA’s Director of Space Medicine.

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avatar MIKE: A geek who currently works as a Biologist and has an extensive science background. He is an avid user of HPC systems used for scientific research in the Washington DC area. Mike's working knowledge of using computers to solve problems brings a unique viewpoint to the podcast.