David G SimonsBMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c3488 (Published 30 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3488
- Ned Stafford
The US Air Force’s Major David G Simons was exhausted, aching, and sweaty after 36 hours crammed in a tiny metal capsule hanging from a huge helium filled balloon 19 miles (31 km) above Earth. It was 20 August 1957, and he should have landed hours before, but dangerous thunderclouds swirling below had postponed his descent.
The capsule’s air regeneration system was not working properly, and the carbon dioxide level was high. Ground observers in radio contact noticed that the 35 year old was speaking at a quarter of normal speed.
No doubt a brave man, Simons later admitted, “At this point I was approaching panic. If I were not a physician, perhaps I would have panicked. But I knew what was causing my rising apprehension. One symptom of carbon dioxide poisoning is panic. And the terrific heat compounded that. I stopped to look at my problem as dispassionately as I could. I gave myself a short lecture.”
Manned space flights
The balloon flight, part of the Operation Man High research programme, was a giant first step toward manned space flights. Simons had been hermetically sealed in …