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This Month in AFMS History – February 2017 – Establishment of Department of Space Medicine at USAFSAM

  • Published
  • AFMS History Office

In 1949, the AFMS began to develop its skills in space medicine, when Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Harry G. Armstrong, the second USAF Surgeon General, inaugurated a program of Air Force medical support to manned space exploration.  On February 9, 1949, General Armstrong established the Department of Space Medicine within the U.S. Air Force School of Aviation Medicine, and appointed several former German Air Force physicians to explore this new field. One of these, Dr. Hubertus Sturghold, became the Air Force’s chief space medicine scientist.

After the Korean War ended, space medicine made rapid progress. Even after the newly created NASA took the lead on space exploration in 1958, space support remained a key Air Force priority. Air Force medics actively experimented with the effects of weightlessness, extreme heat and cold, and sensory deprivation on the human body.  The first two flight surgeons for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs of the 1960s were Air Force personnel.

After the Apollo program, the Air Force continued to supply medical support to the SKYLAB and Space Shuttle programs.  Many of the aeromedical technologies developed in the space program, such as biometric telemetry, have been adapted to use in normal peacetime medical settings.