Intended for healthcare professionals


Charles Berry: NASA physician who helped select the USA’s first astronauts

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 25 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2452
  1. Joanne Silberner
  1. Seattle, USA
  1. jsilberner{at}
Photo: Charles Berry with Deke Slayton

In the 1960s, Americans followed every move made by the astronauts braving the unknowns of space travel. Their faces were splashed on magazine covers: people crowded into theatres to see them on speaking tours, knew the names of the astronauts’ wives and children, how many test flights they’d flown, and what their hobbies were.

Charles Berry, who has died at the age of 96, was tasked with helping to select the members of the elite corps, and their medical care.

Neither job was easy. The men were test pilots in the military—stoic, brave, and eager to fly into space. They did not want to admit to any medical or psychological condition that might prove to be a problem. It was a matter of “super-selecting the super-selected,” Berry said later, and required both diplomacy and medical skill.

That Berry had the high profile job at all was something of an accident. He’d grown up in California, the son of a butcher, and in eighth grade met the woman who would become his wife of 62 years. After his medical training at the University of California at San Francisco, he went into general practice in a desert town in southern …

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