Peterson before a centrifuge test. Gallaudet University Archives.
In the late 1950s when NASA was a brand new agency, the list of spaceflight unknowns was significantly larger than any list of knowns. And addressing that list called for some real creativity. When it came to dealing with space sickness, NASA turned to 11 deaf men for a baseline, and these men ultimately played a significant role in getting the first astronauts off the ground.
This specific run of tests was done in the 1960s as a cooperative venture between NASA test was a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine. The subjects were 11 deaf men between 25 and 48 years old — Harold Domich, Robert Greenmun, Barron Gulak, Raymond Harper, Jerald Jordan, Harry Larson, David Myers, Donald Peterson, Raymond Piper, Alvin Steele, John Zakutney — from Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University) that specializes in educational opportunities for the hearing impaired. And their selection was far from an arbitrary choice.
The key here was in how each of these men lost their hearing. All but one was deaf after a childhood bout with spinal meningitis. Spinal meningitis can, among other effects, cause lasting damage to the ...