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Episode 187: Interview with Former NASA Flight Surgeon Dr. Kim Broadwell

I think we can all agree that social media (and anything approaching it) was a mistake, but sometimes the internet decides to throw you a bone and you meet a NASA flight surgeon on Reddit. After some friendly chatting via email, Dr. Kim Broadwell was gracious enough to speak to me on the podcast. Let’s hear what he has to say!

Episode Audio>

Episode Audio #


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Dr. Broadwell in his home away from home: a weightless aircraft.
Dr. Broadwell helping someone test a new type of spaceworthy pressure suit in weightlessness.
Go check out Kim’s book! You can find more informatino here:

Reddit AMA Thread>

Reddit AMA Thread #

If you’d like to check out the “ask me anything” thread where I met Kim in the first place, head over to And if you’re not using old.reddit, know that I’m judging you!


Transcript #

NOTE: This transcript was created by using OpenAI’s tool Whisper which is pretty good but is still artificial intelligence transcription, so expect errors. Also, it can’t identify who’s speaking, so the entire interview is just sort of smooshed together, but it’s better than nothing. I could go through this line by line and fix it but I figure I’ll just wait until the AI transcription gets better. That said, if you notice any mistakes, feel free to shoot me a message and I’ll fix it.

Hello, and welcome to The Space Above Us. Episode 187, Interview with Former NASA Flight Surgeon Dr. Kim Broadwell

Last time, we returned to the International Space Station on STS-101. The flight was split into two missions after the Russian service module continued to experience additional delays. Even with half its objectives moving to another flight, there was still plenty to do on STS-101, with EVAs to perform, equipment to move, and air circulation to improve. Today, rather than plowing ahead with the second part of that split mission, we’re going to take a quick break to chat with someone who experienced the early Shuttle program firsthand: “my name is Kim Broadwell. I’m a physician and a former NASA flight surgeon.”

Dr. Broadwell and I met, of all places, on Reddit a couple months ago, where he was doing an “ask me anything” thread. The subject of Skylab came up in the thread, so of course I had to jump in. We later began emailing back and forth and he was kind enough to send me a copy of his realistic scifi thriller book Ruthless Sky. After tearing through the book I asked if he’d be interested in chatting with me for the podcast to try to give listeners a peek into what life was like in a NASA role other than astronaut, and he was gracious enough to accept.

Dr. Broadwell worked on the Shuttle program from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, so the podcast narrative has already moved on past the missions he was involved in, but that just means that a lot of familiar names and flights will pop up.

As is my usual style, the interview is largely unedited, which is how I usually prefer to hear interviews, though I realize some people may find it slow. So for once, I won’t be shaking my head disapprovingly at anyone who wants to skip around or listen at 1.5x speed. Yeah, I’m on to you.

But enough preamble, let’s get into it! I start things off by asking the classic question of how he came to be working at NASA.

[AI transcription begins here]

I went to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and I actually got very interested in diving medicine when I took up scuba diving, and I found all this weird and wonderful world of instead of sick people, it was normal people in strange places. I got my pilot’s license in what was then called Spaceland Airport, Houston Gulf, right across the Clear Lake from the Johnson Space Center, and I became very interested in aviation medicine. I was practicing internal medicine, I had that certification already, and I went to the University of Texas School of Public Health to get a Master’s of Public Health degree in aerospace and occupational medicine, which I could do because UT Houston had relationships with the docs at the Johnson Space Center, so I was very fortunate there, as much geography as a skill at that point. My Master’s thesis was looking at parenteral nutrition, that is, taking care of really sick people and feeding them IV on a space station, and the people that I was working with at JSC said, we like the way this guy thinks, why don’t we give him a contractor job, which is the way a lot of people start out. I worked as a contractor primarily as, oh, I got one of those too, so I’ve got two. So for the audio, my cat, Buzz, just jumped up on the back of the seat while in view. That’s right. From the contractor job, I started looking at a lot of aspects of the future space station, which Ronald Reagan had announced at that point. So this is still Space Station Freedom at this point. This is still Space Station Freedom, and the shuttle program had just gotten started and had not had a lot of time to do a lot of life sciences research. It was mostly just trying to make sure they could fly the thing and get it back. So there were many questions that needed to be addressed before the next leap to the long-duration space flights that we hoped to be doing. I got more and more involved in that, and then a slot came open at the Flight Medicine Clinic. Actually what happened was they put me in that slot, but I also stayed doing about 50 or 60% space station research. And ultimately, I worked as a line flight surgeon in the shuttle program, but I also eventually ended up as the office manager for the Space Station Medical Sciences Office. So I always wore two hats. And to some extent, that was good because it was very challenging and fun. It wasn’t good from a NASA institutional point of view because nobody thought they owned me, and sometimes I was an orphan, it seemed like. So I had a lot of fun during the late 80s and early 90s and did a lot of microgravity research on the KC-135 plane on early things like just doing a physical exam, air-fluid separation, water purification, surgical techniques. And ultimately, when I left NASA in the early 90s, Duke University made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and my wife wasn’t that crazy about South Texas. And I sort of had as much fun as a nearsighted doctor can have at NASA. And I jumped ship and we went to North Carolina, but I stayed involved in some of the experiments that I’d set up with IV pumps and such as that. And I stayed in aerospace and diving medicine, although the diving medicine kind of fell by the wayside, but I ended up eventually running the medical clinic at Boston Logan Airport for a while and then went back to my wife’s hometown, did civilian aerospace medicine, pilot physicals and complicated pilot medical problems for kind of the rest of my career, until we moved back to North Carolina again to be closer to my son, who got married. That’s a fascinating path. That’s really interesting how… It’s always fascinating. I think people have this idea of this like very kind of straightforward path to various roles, I guess in life in general, but especially at NASA. But everyone I’ve talked to, it’s always been this kind of like, you know, certain parts of luck, certain parts of going after it and certain parts, you know, like you said, geography, something that you just kind of, you know, sidle into a job before realizing it’s happening. So that’s fascinating. Could you describe, I guess, what exactly the role of a flight surgeon is and maybe why is it called a surgeon? You guys are hundreds of miles away. I’m happy to. Let me get my cat out of the way. He’s looking at your tabby cat. The eternal task. Yes. You know, NASA is a paramilitary organization, maybe less so now than they used to be. But obviously when they started, they were almost another military branch. There have always been surgeons in the Army, in the Navy, and that’s what they called people who helped the battlefield, you know, the charge of the Light Brigade. They needed somebody to sew them up. So that’s where the surgeon came from. And just as soon as the Wright brothers started flying, there was a need for medical care for airmen. In fact, the first poor Lieutenant Selfridge, who died in 1908 with a crash with Orville in Fort Myer, Virginia, led to one of the first medical recommendations, which is they ought to wear a helmet. Yeah. Always a good idea. World War I was a big deal because that was the first time we had military aviation. And many of those people had problems, medical problems, and it became obvious right away that they needed some kind of medical standards for pilots. If you can’t see, they can’t fly the plane. Right. And a good number of them didn’t meet the standards. So they became known as flight surgeons, and there’s no such thing as flight surgery. You don’t do surgery, but that’s where the name came from. And so the modern NASA flight surgeon, and they still do this, wears lots of different hats. First and foremost is the same thing that the flight surgeon in the field does for the aviators, and that is the flight medicine clinic takes care of the astronauts and their families for primary care. So it’s a big primary care practice for the astronauts and their families. And that even extends after they’ve retired from flight, right? To some extent, yes. All astronauts came back to the flight clinic at least once a year because there was a NASA longitudinal medical study of astronauts, but actually it was Old Homewood. They got to come back and see everybody and talk. And I was very fortunate. I got to meet almost all the moonwalkers as they came back through the flight medicine clinic. Wow. Gene Cernan and Jim Irwin and all these people that are now gone, but old Buzz Aldrin. He told me one of the best jokes I’ve ever heard about consultants. We got to hear a Buzz Aldrin joke. This is a Buzz Aldrin joke. He says, oh, you know what a consultant is? And I said, no, he said, a consultant is a guy who knows 50 ways to make love, but doesn’t know any women. Okay. This sounds like a Buzz Aldrin joke. That was a Buzz Aldrin joke. So you sit at the console during the missions, but obviously that is a very small part of what you’re doing because most of the time you’re doing something else, including simulations. The selection process is a big part of it. When people come in, they spend a week and the flight surgeons are a big part of going through that process. And there’s a lot of medical review boards, just like in the regular military. Fitness for duty is a big question, and astronauts come in in perfect shape because NASA can choose from a giant pool and get perfect people, but they don’t stay perfect. They get old and they get problems and they hang around a long time waiting to fly sometimes. So frequently medical issues would come up that would say, would be rise to the level of, is it safe to send this person to space? And so they had medical review boards, fitness for duty things. And then a lot of, particularly what I did, but all the flight surgeons do is participate in medical research. And the idea is to find out how to do things better, safer. And I worked a lot on that. Particularly during the hiatus after the Challenger disaster, we were all challenged with going back and looking at every single thing that we did to make sure it was the right way to do it. And one of the things I did is redid the medical checklist for the crew medical officer on orbit. We redid the SOMES, which is the Shuttle Orbiter Medical System. They could just call it the first aid kit, but they don’t. Of course. It did have some injectables in there. There were issues about things you wouldn’t think about right away, which is, you know, when they have a fire, how do they put it out? Well, they use a halon fire extinguisher, just like we do, except that’s a closed environment. Conducive to breathing. Yeah. That’s a closed environment. So how long can you actually breathe without having a problem? Oh, wow. Yeah, I never thought about that. Someone would have had to figure out like, okay, well, we had to pick a number. We probably shouldn’t just guess. Well, we put some, we didn’t pick it. We put some people in a room in Methodist Hospital in Houston and gave them some halon and see how long it took to get goofy. So that’s kind of the overview as a flight surgeon. I will say, back then, you asked how people get the job and, oh, in the 30 years since then, things have changed dramatically. The competition has become just insane. One issue is there aren’t, there’s only really one civilian aeromedical, aerospace graduate, postgraduate medical education program left at Galveston and NASA funds like one slot and they have another slot. So the people that want to get a civilian aerospace medicine residency, nowadays they’re coming in with an ER residency and some other residency like internal medicine and some kind of master’s degree. You know, everybody that goes to NASA as a doctor wants to be an astronaut, but now you almost have to pass astronaut standards to get in their residency program. I was going to say, that literally sounds, it’s harder than becoming an astronaut. There’s fewer slots available and it’s even more specialized. Well, it’s pretty tough. There’s still residency programs in the military, but they’ve shrunk too and commercial space has made a huge difference and actually there are a lot of emergency medicine programs that have started saying, oh, we’re going to do space medicine, like space medicine is sewing up people that are going to Mars. It’s more than that, but just like a lot of things, there’s a turf battle brewing, but aerospace medicine has no, doesn’t have a lot of skill cards because when you look at postgraduate medical education, like internal medicine, surgery, almost every clinical specialty is supported at the university level by the government. It’s mostly Medicare money and preventive medicine, like occupational medicine and preventive medicine and aerospace medicine, don’t get any of that money. Yeah, I was just thinking, you know, not a ton of people flying of Medicare age flying in space. No, no. The occupational medicine program here at Duke, you know, every five years we stand on our heads to get NIOSH to give us the grant money to have a residency for a few more years because there’s no other source of the money. I’ll put in a plug for the Aerospace Medical Association Foundation, which I’m currently the chair of. I’m trying to retire. One of our big plans is to try and raise enough money to support some more postgraduate training. Interesting. Because the commercial space, you know, is booming and it’s not just NASA that needs flight surgeons. Yeah, for sure. So actually, so let’s pull this back a little bit. I’m curious. So one of the things that I think we often do on this podcast is kind of get into kind of more nitty gritty than a lot of kind of similar shows might do. So I’m curious, let’s say there’s a shuttle crew on orbit. Can you walk us through just a day in the life for the flight surgeon? You know, are there any, you know, are there particular like meetings you’re hitting? Are there certain check-ins you’re doing? Are there, you know, parts of the routine? Are there, you know, what would you expect to be doing with the crew on orbit? You know, just let’s say near the beginning of the mission or that, you know, if that even matters. Yeah, because I can speak to shuttle. I can’t speak to ISS. In the shuttle days, there is a surgeon station in mission control in the flight control room. We’re back in the back right corner next to the public affairs officer, mostly ignored. And the last thing you want to do is have flight say, surgeon, blah, blah, blah, blah, because you haven’t been paying any attention. So during a mission, there’s usually somebody manning the surgeon console. And one of the things that we did do as a routine, as you know, everything is wide open in the clear in mission control and gets recorded. So if a person has a medical issue or a medical question, you don’t want that in the open. And I think I covered that when I wrote my book, which is called a private medical conference. So if somebody, we actually used to set up scheduled private medical conferences, even if there wasn’t any need for it, just so it wouldn’t, you wouldn’t know there was actually a problem. Sure. Yeah, that’s smart. So the PMC was part of the routine. And that would be, we’d actually leave the console, go downstairs to what they used to call the MIPS or the support room where all the, you know, every one of those console spots has an army of people behind them in a room working. And so we’d go down to where our biomedical engineers were in Houston, Houston comm would set up a single line. So there was one Houston comm person and basically a biomed guy recording it and the surgeon and they talked to the crew. So if they had a nosebleed or they were having motion sickness or, or whatever, we’d, we’d talk about it. And that way it’d be, you know, they could be open without, you know, having to filter themselves knowing that, you know, anyone with a ham radio could be listening in. Right. Right. So that was, that was a big part of it. And otherwise, you know, I’m happy to say most of the, the, the medical problems were in the shuttle era were particularly, you know, compared to all the simulations we did and everything it was pretty routine. You know, most of those didn’t, a lot of bad things didn’t go, didn’t happen, certainly not in the medical world. And you know, one of the big deals that you talk about a lot in your podcast is the early part of the program in space motion sickness and it was one of my, my friends who was a former flight surgeon, Jim Bajan, who on STS-29 took some Phenergan up, the injectable anti-nausea medicine and gave that to some people and it fixed it. And so after that, it didn’t become nearly the issue. I mean, between the operational learning that you didn’t want to get up out of your seat and start doing somersaults when you first got to orbit, if, if you were careful with your head, you’d do better than, than not. And if you hear, I have house painters, so it’s not the cats, the clunks. So that, so that, it took them all the way to STS-29 to kind of, you know, figure out that problem. Is it really like pretty much solved or do people still kind of suffer? That took care of it. You know, one, one shot, I mean, it would be a sedative, you’d have to go take care of it, but nobody had the Jake Garn problem anymore. So forever define the Garn scale. So that, that sort of took care of that. And you know, so we talk about that sort of thing, whether or not to give it, I think it became so routine that they didn’t even ask us anymore. You know, after, after that, just say, do you want some Phenergan? Do people just take it just in case, or do they wait to feel some kind of nausea before taking it? They wait till they start to feel some symptoms, but we’d always encourage folks, and that was part of the crew medical officer training. You know, if you starting to feel that way, just go ahead and take it and it’ll shut it down. That’s fascinating. Yeah. That’s it. So yeah, it took all that time. So let’s see, I do have a couple of questions from listeners I’m going to try to kind of drop in around here. So Jay from Petawawa asks, what sort of mental health evaluations are done on astronauts and astronaut candidates to ensure flight readiness? And has there been any change in this over the years or over the course of your career? I have to give the disclaimer that I am, I’m so far away from the current astronaut selection process that nothing that I say has any currency to it at all. Yeah, I think that makes sense. In fact, we should probably say you were there from what, like the mid 80s through the mid 90s? Early 90s. Yeah. Okay. That was an issue and many of us thought that they should be doing more. But at that time, no, they weren’t doing a lot. The people that got that far to see us in the selection week had already been pre-selected out of thousands and thousands and they’d already had careers doing other stuff and they’d been very successful in what they were doing. So no, but I will say that obviously there have been mental problems in the astronaut corps. There are people like everybody else, but I don’t know what they’re doing now. I hope they’ve changed it. I mean, there’s been suicides, there’s been all kinds of crazy stuff happened, but I’m not up to date on that. Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think we can pretty safely put this entire interview file under like, Hey, this is, you know, it’s perfect for history podcasts of like, this is a slice of what things were like at that, you know, at that time in the early shuttle era. So another question from a listener, Daniel was, this is kind of, I never considered this. This was how big is the overall medical staff for shuttle crew and did you have specialists monitoring individual systems? Like were there ophthalmologists tracking changes in eyesight? At any given time, there was probably, when I was there, about 10 medical officers at the Johnson Space Center. There were, there were a few docs at Kennedy and behind that was a large contractor army. So there were a lot of contractor docs, and in fact, that’s the way they manage the space station program. Now, as far as I know, you know, a big company provides the flight docs for the European Space Agency and they have all kinds of support people, but it’s still, there’s never been a whole lot of NASA civil servant flight surgeons. Yeah, it’s definitely a smaller number, the number that I would have expected. Yeah, I don’t know how many they got now, but there weren’t that many back then. And then we were split up doing lots of different things, but during a mission, I mean, every, you were still primarily a generalist interested in the health of the crew right at that moment. And we, when we were doing primary care or when we had a medical problem on orbit or had a question about, you know, decompression sickness or something like that, we got on the speed dial to all of our consultants. You know, we could get the best brains at Baylor or UT Houston or anywhere in the world. They’d answer our call and it was very nice compared to trying to get, that’s right. They would say, NASA has a call about an astronaut, will you talk to him? And they would, they always would. Another kind of related question from Daniel was, is there one medical team for each crew or just like one department for the entire core? And it sounds like you may have answered this, but he clarifies saying like, you know, if a mission was delayed, would that mean that medical staff was also rotated out? Was there kind of like medical staff associated with one crew? Would you follow the crew or was it just kind of a general thing? In the early space shuttle era, and I don’t think they ever changed it. When the crew was announced or when the mission was announced, the medical bureaucracy at NASA would assign a crew surgeon and a deputy crew surgeon for that mission. And you were dedicated to that crew and you took care of them. And if you look at some of the videos of people leaving the ONC building at KSC going out to the Astrovan, there’s a person in a blue flight suit and that’s the flight surgeon following them around. You know, he was there during quarantine and so yeah, they were just as dedicated part of the crew as everything else, which is a good thing because you need to have a band of trust to do your job properly. Yeah, for sure. You want to have one person who you know for sure, this is the person whose job it is. You’re not trying to get the attention of a general team. You’ve got like, this is my, this is my, my doctor. Exactly. In fact, you, so you brought this up. Another question that came up was about how the quarantines work and also how, you know, it’s I think it may be a mix of fictional movies, but also like documentaries. You see maybe astronauts not seemingly not always taking the quarantine the most seriously and you see stuff like, you know, them interacting with family members or, you know, friends and kind of slipping around it. And this listener, Daniel, again, was curious, you know, if that’s ever been a problem with people breaking the quarantine or, you know, I guess in general, how that all worked. Here again, this is maybe a question more for the Kennedy doctors, but I don’t know. Yeah, I’m going back. Well, I mean, the crew surgeon would go to the Cape and get quarantined there with them. I think the general thing has been to keep contact with the outside world at an absolute minimum for seven days. And I think they’re still doing that sort of thing. And I remember, you know, you could see your family across the road, kind of like the COVID six feet deal. But if your family was cleared, you know, you could go have a party at the beach house or something beforehand. And I guess I’m a little rusty on exactly the numbers, but I’m not aware of any that I can recall during my tenure there that quarantine was an issue or people getting sick. I mean, the most famous one, of course, is the measled exposure of Ken Manningly during Apollo 13. Sure, yeah. And speaking of pioneers, Chuck Berry was the doctor who invented aerospace medicine. Not the guitar player, but Charles Berry, who just died recently, a couple of years ago. Wow. And so he was the nerdy doctor in the movie that kind of looked like he was being goofy. But of course, that was the movie. Everything they did was completely reasonable because measles is one of the most contagious diseases known to man. Yeah. So I guess that’s a good question. Would you have grounded Ken Manningly for that mission? Yes. Knowing what I know now, yes, I would have. Yeah. Yeah. I think they really kind of, you know, I think movies especially like to make the flight search not to be the bad guy, but it’s like, listen, man, measles is a bad time. Exactly. Yes. I listen to the tapes of the, I mean, I listened to your supplemental about the mission control at the time of the explosion of the command and service module O2 tank and you’re right. It’s not very dramatic. So when you make a movie, you got to spice it up a little bit. You got to spice it up just a little bit. And it seems like, you know, it seems like the quarantine seems to have mostly worked because I’m trying to recall, I think the only time I could think of is I remember there was one, I think shuttle commander who had kind of a nasty head cold and that’s what the one, I forget which mission it was, but you know, he jokingly held up all of his medicine saying, you know, just say maybe to drugs. Yeah. And there were, uh, there were guys, was it a Gemini crew who had bad head colds and got in trouble cause they didn’t want to wear their helmets when they were coming in for reentry. And in fact they got, uh, they got kind of blackballed, I think for a while. I can’t remember who it was now, but, uh, there had been some, uh, space medical issues. And when your head is stopped up and you got a lot of pressure changes, it’s not fun. Yeah. The Apollo seven crew were pretty grumpy. Yeah. Um, so you mentioned that you were also involved in a lot of, a lot of research. So, uh, we’re curious, like what is some of the, and again, Daniel’s got a lot of questions here. So his was, uh, you know, what is the coolest space physiology thing that we’ve learned? And he says in the last five years, but I’ll say, you know, that you, you know, during your, your, during your period at NASA, what are some of the interesting things that you, you know, what, through your research and through the flights, uh, were discovered or, you know, maybe, um, refined. There were all kinds of questions for long duration space flight. And in fact, there were, uh, a lot of operational questions even back then. And so a lot of what the medical, uh, community was doing was working out things, uh, protocols for how to prevent decompression sickness. When people went EVA, uh, there was space motion sickness, you know, radiation is still a huge problem and I, I consider radiation one of the showstoppers for long duration space flight or going to Mars. We need to come up with a way to take care of that. So what I’m giving you more is challenges than things that have been entirely worked out. Uh, you know, discovering new challenges is important, right? Yeah. One of the big ones now is the, uh, uh, space associated, uh, neuro-ophthalmological syndromes where we have huge changes in some people’s, uh, intraocular pressure and eyeball shape causing problems. But for me, back in the early days, when we were just looking at how to do things, uh, we did a lot of KC-135 flights on just how to do a medical exam. Can you intubate somebody? How’s the best way to restrain yourself to do the simplest tasks? And of course that’s the, that’s what everybody discovers in zero G is you, you can’t do anything unless you got a place to hold on to. You are just, uh, you’re not going to be able to do it. So how do you do CPR in, in zero G? We worked on those things. And I was very interested. How do you do CPR in zero G? Strap everybody down. Uh, the, uh, I was, I started out with perinatal nutrition and IVs and, uh, we were very interested in, in two things. One was how to generate, uh, let’s say somebody’s on the station and they, they can’t get back. How do you generate sterile water for injection? How do you actually make IV water? You can’t take tons of IV bags. And so, uh, we worked on a process for that in zero G and I did a lot of flights, uh, and I think they still, I think they use some sort of, uh, variation of that multistage, uh, sterile water for injection process even now. And of course they recycle all the water on station now that they can’t. Right. Yeah. Of course. Water’s pretty heavy. How about separating air from liquid, uh, in an IV bag? Let’s say you do have some IV bags, uh, they can be manufactured specially with no air, but, uh, that’s not the best way to do it. The best way to separate the air out and, uh, that’s a huge problem with all kinds of space experiments is getting the bubbles out of the liquid or, but letting things flow right. So, uh, we looked at how to, uh, separate air from a bag full of IV fluid that had bubbles in it. Yeah. I was kind of surprised. That’s probably kind of came, kind of came up a lot where you’d see, um, you know, crews being forced to like drink bubbly water or whatever, and you know, that can be pretty uncomfortable and weightlessness, you know, I was kind of surprised at like, it’s like, it’s the kind of little problem that you don’t really, I guess I didn’t see coming. And then in retrospect, it’s a little bit obvious, but just like, oh, wow, that, yeah, this is like a kind of a, not a showstopper problem, but something that has to be solved. Yeah. Burping is no fun. I wouldn’t drink a Coke and zero G I wouldn’t do that. Uh, and that’s one of the other things Jim Bajan did on, uh, on, uh, SDS 29, he took an IV bag and he swung it around to show that you could with centrifugal force, get the air enough at the end that you could actually, if you didn’t disturb it, give, give fluid in an emergency without having to, uh, worry about it. Interesting. So, you know, we obviously, we’re going to talk a lot about weightlessness, but you have a fair amount of experience yourself. So you can mention, you’ve done a bunch of research on the Casey one 35. So I’m curious, uh, can you describe, you know, what that experience is like? First of all, what did you do on the Casey one 35 and what is the weightless experience like, uh, the Casey one 35 is, I used to say as much fun as you can have with your clothes on it, uh, it, it was based, uh, you know, it was a modified air force tanker and it’s hollowed out and it’s, it was based at Ellington field. And for our medical research, we would get these very sophisticated, um, little metal frames with plywood tops and, and duct tape and duct tape our stuff on there, nothing but the best. Uh, and there are on, uh, uh, I, I posted, uh, several of these videos that we made in the eighties doing things on Reddit, which may still be there. Uh, it was about, I guess, two or three months ago now. Uh, the, the Casey would, uh, up, up in the cockpit, they would take the left seat and, uh, AJ or whoever was flying would put a special yoke there. And of course they had a G meter. So they take off, fly out over the Gulf and do go up to about, uh, I guess, 20, 25,000 feet. And they would fly parabolas. So, uh, everybody knows about the zero G part of the parabola, but they would also do about a 1.8 to two G pull up to get to the top of the parabola. And then you’d get a good 20, 25 seconds of, uh, zero G on the other side of the parabola. And they do that, uh, 10 times and then they take another, take a break. They do another 10 and they turn around and do 20 more coming back. So you usually on a regular flight got 40 parabolas. Nice. Yeah. And if you ask them very nicely, uh, they would give you an extra long parabola. And I did that once because I was, uh, having trouble getting, getting something finished before, before the pullout. Uh, so in between, uh, you know, of course the big issue with, with that, and they don’t call it the vomit comet for nothing is you can get really sick on that if, if you don’t do it right. And I was very fortunate. The old heads took me aside and said, here’s what you do not to get sick. During the two G pullout, you sit down and you don’t move your head. He don’t move your head at all. You don’t move anything because that hyper stimulation of your vestibular system is a big part of the, uh, uh, problem. And they also would give us a scopolamine and dexedrine, which is an amphetamine and an anticholinergic, uh, the scopolamine sort of like what’s in the patches people use for motion sickness. Uh, the dexedrine is hard to come by. Yeah. In fact, I tried to get that for some of the crew on a, uh, a consulting job I had a few years ago where I went back and flew in some modern zero G experiments. But the things we were doing, uh, we had, uh, patient restraint systems. Uh, there was always other things going on in the plane. There were, uh, people were very interested in, uh, space motion sickness at that time and we’re trying to discover all they could about how the, uh, vestibular ocular system worked in zero G. And so there were a lot of strange, uh, uh, experiments going on. And I swear helmets with the moving dots and stuff and people who would, uh, be listening to what sounded like there are men music while they’re moving their head back and forth. I would not have done, I would not have volunteered for any of those things. That sounds rough. So it was, um, uh, a very interesting experience and, uh, it’s amazing if, if you design the experiment right to start and stop, you can get a whole lot done in 30 and 20 second intervals. Yeah. I did some space suit consulting for a company, uh, about six years ago and flew again on the seven 27 that goes around the country giving commercial zero G flights in, uh, about once a month, they’ll, or maybe a couple of times a year, they’ll accumulate a lot of, uh, university and, uh, commercial companies that want the zero G flight sort of like the old Casey one 35. And we would, we went on some of those. Did you ever have a chance? Uh, I know some of the commercial, uh, once do this, I’m curious when you flew, did you have a chance to experience stuff like, um, like Martian gravity or lunar gravity? Do they do any of those kind of lesser parabolas? Yes, they did that. They did Mars and they did the moon. Yeah, on, on the, uh, on the seven 27, then I was flying in. How’s that feel? Strange. I was used to zero G, but not partial G. That’s funny. I would’ve thought that it, you know, that once you’re used to zero G, you can handle anything. So that’s, uh, it kind of threw you off. It did. Um, so I guess you kind of get this already, but you know, if any of my listeners are planning one to do a, one of those commercial flights, you know, do you have any tips other than I guess during the, you know, bottom part of the parabola, keep your head still. Is there anything else you would suggest for people to be able to enjoy to the maximum extent since, you know, they’re not going to have time to take whatever, uh, Jim Bayesian’s injection was? Uh, yeah, that’s the main thing. Just avoid any stimulation during the, uh, hyper G pullouts. Uh, obviously don’t eat a giant meal before you go. Uh, the scopolamine patches, uh, if you, particularly if you’ve taken them before and didn’t have problem, uh, or not a bad deal, you just have to make sure you don’t get it on your finger and get it in your eye. And I wouldn’t, uh, suggest taking one for the first time before you go on your wonderful flight in case you have a problem. Yeah. Yeah. Do it ahead of time. Let’s make sure you’re good. But, and also be prepared that somebody on your flight is probably going to get sick and pass like a football back to the back, back of the ship. Yeah. It’s good. Go to, you’ve been bashed to the vomit zone. I’m curious, have you ever, by any chance, have you ever ridden a Disney world? There’s a ride called mission space. Have you ever been on that? I haven’t. My kids are too, were too old to go back to Disney world, so I don’t have any grandchildren yet. So I haven’t been there. And so the reason I mentioned it is, so mission space is this ride that’s, that is presented as if you’re getting in a spacecraft, but is an actual, an actuality, a gigantic centrifuge. And what they do is they simulate launch forces by spinning it, spinning you up in a way that’s kind of transparent. You don’t, you know, they have graphics and stuff to make it look like you’re launching into space. And, you know, of course what they’re really doing is you spinning you up to about two G’s for like 10 or so seconds. And you know, I always, it’s, I kind of give the same advice of like during those parts, you’re going to want to look around, keep your head still. Because in this case, not only is it the, you know, two G’s, but also you’re spinning. So if you turn your head, your ears, you know, each ear will get a different signal and that’s a great way to be sick and have it come right back on you. Yes. The Coriolis illusion, the Coriolis problem is, is a big deal in commercial aviation too. There have been accidents because people were under G acceleration and turned their head too much and got disoriented and crashed the plane. Yeah. It’s just, it’s also just like remarkable of like, you know, even just two G’s for like, you know, 10 or 12 seconds, it’s, you know, I mean, I don’t have to tell you, it’s really something else. It’s, it’s kind of like every, every single time I’ve done it, once it starts up, I thought, oh, I’ve made a mistake, but then, you know, it’s over pretty quick. Well, you know, you get to do a lot of interesting things at NASA. Some of them don’t turn out to be earth shattering, but at one point we were considering and they came very close to developing a crew return vehicle for space station, which was a system of a vehicle that you could put a sick person in and evacuate them and not, not have to send a shuttle to get them. And that of course, like a lot of things fell, fell the wayside of budgets. I still think it was a good idea. Yeah. However, we were considering, it was more of a ballistic entry, and so we were interested in what, what would happen to, to people who were compromised physically in that kind of thing. And we actually did some work with baboons in centrifuges, but they also sent some other human baboons to Brooke Air Force Base to ride this, to ride the centrifuge they had there. Yeah. Yeah. JSC centrifuge got taken up to build the, the WEDF. So there wasn’t a centrifuge at JSC. Right. Yeah. So let’s see. So a couple of the flight surgeons and, oh my gosh, who was it? An astronaut whose name I’m forgetting. Anyway, we rode the Apollo moon re-entry profile in their centrifuge, which goes up to about eight and a half G. Now it’s not, it’s not the G that goes down to your feet. It’s the, the GX that goes through your chest. Yeah. So you’re kind of on your back. You’re on your back and, um, I would, I don’t think they’d sell that at Disney world. That was awful. I thought there, I thought there were two elephants standing on my chest. Yeah. Yeah. But so it, it, those kinds of things are, uh, are fond memories of what you do in your, in your wild and crazy youth. Yeah. And you can, um, kind of get a sense for it with, um, the audio of Alan Shepard going through it. You know, Alan Shepard, super fit Mercury astronaut guy, and you can hear him barely able to squeeze out the word. Okay. As he’s hitting those Gs. I don’t think I even said I was okay. I don’t think I was okay, but, uh, so one thing, something else I want to talk about is you briefly mentioned it is you’re an author. So once you, uh, talk about, you know, I, you’re, uh, kind enough to send me a copy of your book, which I blasted through in a few days and, you know, uh, you know, I’ll let you introduce it before I start talking about it, I guess. Uh, yes, I, uh, uh, had got to a certain point in my life and I said, gee, I have all this more or less interesting, but otherwise useless information in my head. I should do something with it. And I I’m very unhappy with a lot of the, uh, realistic science fiction that I read because it’s not very realistic. So I did the absolute worst thing you can do as an author. I wrote a book and I wrote it for me, which is a terrible way to do marketing, but I wanted to write, uh, a story about, uh, the space shuttle in the era that I knew that was realistic, but also had a, uh, a fun plot and, uh, some romance and gave a, uh, a picture of what it was like to both, uh, be an astronaut, but also, uh, all the other medical things that were fun and the stuff that people don’t know about, like the shuttle training aircraft and decompression sickness and things like that. So I wrote a story that is about, uh, uh, a crippled, uh, imaginary space shuttle on an alternate timeline in the late 1980s and it’s called Ruthless Sky and, uh, released it in November. Uh, the, uh, the reviews have been pretty good people, you know, it’s, it’s a little, it’s very much like the Martian in that it’s realistic, a little snarky, uh, it’s got a lot of time, clancy, uh, cold war stuff in it. The Russians get involved. This is before the fall of the Soviet union. And uh, there’s also a little bit of spicy romance in there, so, uh, something for everyone. Yeah. What I really enjoyed how there’s a lot of small details, uh, that were just like, oh, like you really gotta be a nerd to even pick up on this, but like, they don’t feel out of place. But like, if you know, you’re like, oh, I, okay. You know, it’s a nice little kind of Easter eggs almost, uh, that kind of level of realism. And I liked how, you know, kind of went out of your way to craft a fairly realistic scenario of like, you know, why is it that, you know, how does this damage, you know, how is the orbiter damaged and you know, what leads to potential like calm issues and all this other stuff. But you know, it’s, I think anyone who’s enjoyed listening to the shuttle program would enjoy it because there’s just a lot of little details about that, you know, that are, you know, like you said, it’s like a, a nice sci-fi story that really gets a lot of the little things right. Uh, and I actually thought, you know, of course, you know, this was going to have a, you know, a lot of the scene through the view of the perspective of a flight surgeon. I thought that was really interesting just getting to see a little bit of that day-to-day stuff like you talked about the private medical conferences and, you know, how all that works. Um, and you know, just medical concerns, you know, how to handle medical emergencies on orbit. So, you know, it was, you know, a lot of those little details and like kind of how the missions are put together, you know, I thoroughly enjoyed that. Well I didn’t realize it. I was writing it for you. And hey, I definitely, writing something for yourself is not the wrong move. I mean, I basically set out to make the podcast I wished existed and, you know, apparently some people enjoy it too. So it’s worked out, you know. Well, thank you for the, for the kind words. It was a lot of fun. And I have to say that, uh, it’s been a, uh, publishing a book, uh, is also an incredibly, uh, interesting, uh, and sometimes frustrating journey, but I’ve learned a lot. Yeah. And I appreciate the shout out. So yes, I have, I have a, you can get it on Amazon. It’s Ruthless Sky. And I also have a, a website So you got a neat video, some reviews, you can read a sample. So I’ll be sure to include a link in the show notes. Oh, super. Do you have any, uh, any other like kind of, you know, anecdotes or tidbits or, you know, just even just little fun facts about, you know, what it’s like being a crew surgeon, flight surgeon, you know, stuff from anything from just working at NASA in that era, you know, which was, you know, so different, I think, you know, from the NASA that, uh, we know these days, you know, it’s so similar in some ways, but, you know, just kind of a different atmosphere, you know, curious if you have any other things you want to throw in here. And the answer, if the answer is no, not really, that’s fine. But I thought I’d give you a chance. Well, it’s kind of like the, the DOD missions, you know, every, every, there are lots and lots of interesting medical things that happened, but I can’t talk about any of them. Yeah, sure. Of course. Yeah. So that the day-to-day stuff was, was never dull. And, uh, yeah, I, I think, um, this was about the time I was leaving NASA, but probably one of the best, the biggest accomplishments for me was watching my experiments that I’d worked on for years get flown on the, uh, on the space labs. Uh, SLS-1, the Space Life Sciences-1, STS-40, uh, had some of my water purification and IV stuff. And also they flew the IV pump again on SLJ, uh, STS-47. So you’re, uh, it’s hard to have much of a legacy at NASA, you know, your signature gets signed off on the Soames kit and the medical checklist, and then the next guy comes along and it’s gone. But I have to say it was, uh, it was a hell of a ride and I really, you know, wouldn’t have had it any other way. Awesome. Um, so one of the questions that I probably should have thought of earlier, but kept slipping my mind was, you know, you talked a lot about the research for kind of ramping up for this long duration flights. I’m curious to what extent did the Skylab, uh, uh, research, you know, help you guys out, you know, or was it, did you find that, you know, you needed, uh, you still had a bunch of unanswered questions or, you know, was it this really helpful thing or just kind of, you know, one more data point that to add in? Oh my gosh, Skylab, uh, for, uh, for the medical world was, uh, it’s, it was the holy grail. I mean, having a chance to have humans in, in space for that long and, and study them, uh, even with what we knew in the seventies, uh, uh, we were still mining that Skylab data for what, what should we do next when I was looking at the next step for space station. And, uh, you know, of course, Joe Kerwin is, uh, is still alive. I know him. He is a fabulous guy. What a career. And he was the first doctor in space. Yeah. Uh, so, you know, some of the things, you know, the lower body negative pressure that kept going for a long time and, uh, other countermeasures, uh, you know, the fact that, I mean, gee, if they hadn’t had Skylab, they would have probably tried to put a shower in the shuttle. Oh my God. You’re right. So, uh, yeah, I’m, I’m sorry that it, that it, uh, couldn’t get boosted and have a second life, but, uh, no, it’s still a big, a big milestone for me. Awesome. All right. Well, I think that’s all the questions we got here. So it’s been great chatting with you about this medical stuff and, you know, I want to thank you for taking the time to, you know, talk, talk to us here and, you know, answer these kind of, you know, random grab bag of questions and, you know, uh, and, you know, I, again, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, Ruthless Sky, available wherever people get books. So thanks a lot. Thank you so much. It’s been my pleasure.

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And there you go! Once again, thanks to Dr. Kim Broadwell for agreeing to be on the show. I really appreciated getting a little glimpse into what life was like for the NASA medical personnel at that time. That book, again, if you’d like to check it out is called “Ruthless Sky” and you can find it in all the usual places you buy books.

Next time.. well, you already know what’s happening next time, cause I used it as the teaser for the previous episode! Zvezda is finally at the International Space Station, so let’s head up there and get it ready for the Expedition 1 crew.

Ad Astra, catch you on the next pass.