NAMRU-D Strengthens Old Ties with NASA

May 28, 1959, a squirrel monkey from the NAMRL laboratory, Miss Baker, became one of the first two primates launched into space and successfully recovered.

By Richard D. Arnold, NAMURU-D

In preparation for manned space flight (in the late 1950s) the lab’s Research Director, Capt. Ashton Graybiel, established a program of bio-medical research focused on problems in space medicine.

Visitors to Naval Medical Research Unit-Dayton’s (NAMRU-D) Aeromedical Directorate will still find a few mementos of the lab’s key role in the nation’s early manned space program.

In preparation for manned space flight (in the late 1950s) the lab’s Research Director, Capt. Ashton Graybiel, established a program of bio-medical research focused on problems in space medicine.

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In preparation for manned space flight (in the late 1950s) the lab’s Research Director, Capt. Ashton Graybiel, established a program of bio-medical research focused on problems in space medicine.

The lab was then a department of the USN School of Aviation Medicine and subsequently established as an independent laboratory, the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory (NAMRL), Pensacola, Florida, in 1970.

From 1950 to 1986, NAMRL and Graybiel played a key role in the U.S. space program by conducting groundbreaking aeromedical research to enhance the health, safety and performance of NASA astronauts.

May 28, 1959, a squirrel monkey from the NAMRL laboratory, Miss Baker, became one of the first two primates launched into space and successfully recovered.

Her travel partner, an Army rhesus monkey named Miss Able, died four days later. Miss Baker became a national celebrity and remained a local celebrity in Pensacola, where a parade was held each year on her “birthday.” In 1971 she was transferred from NAMRL to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where she lived until her death in 1984.

Other important work performed at the lab in Pensacola included familiarization training for the Mercury astronauts to prepare them for acceleration and gravitational extremes they would experience in space flight; collaborative work with NASA on the first space suits and pharmaceutical research to combat space motion sickness.

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Miss Baker became a national celebrity and remained a local celebrity in Pensacola, where a parade was held each year on her “birthday.”

Graybiel remained at the core of the lab’s partnership with NASA for many decades. After his retirement from Naval service in 1966, he remained at the lab as scientific director until his retirement from civil service in 1986.

NAMRL continued various collaborations with NASA after Graybiel’s retirement, though the partnership diminished somewhat due to the loss of its principal driving force.

In 2011 the laboratory moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, as directed by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act. As NAMRU-D grows back into its mission, NASA is once again becoming a key research partner.

NAMRU-D is partnering with NASA and Epiomed Therapeutics to test intranasally delivered scopolamine against space motion sickness and other forms of motion sickness.

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NAMRL continued various collaborations with NASA after Graybiel’s retirement, though the partnership diminished somewhat due to the loss of its principal driving force.

Recently, NAMRU-D and NASA Langley Research Center signed an interagency agreement to conduct collaborative research on mitigation of pilot spatial disorientation, the leading aeromedical threat in military, commercial and civil aviation.This new work will be supported by NAMRU-D’s new Disorientation Research Device (DRD), a one-of-a-kind research platform that is expected to provide a foundation for the next generation of research into problems of pilot spatial disorientation, related vestibular and acceleration problems.

It is also hoped to provide one more foundation for the reestablishment of the lab’s special relationship with NASA.  The mission of NAMRU-D is to maximize warfighter performance and survivability through world-class aeromedical and environmental health research by delivering solutions to the field, the Fleet and for the future.