Charles Portal was born in Hungerford on 21st May 1893. Educated at Christ Church, Oxford, he joined the British Army in August 1914. He was quickly promoted to corporal in the motorcycle section of the Royal Engineers and was sent to the Western Front in France. In December 1914 he was given command of all riders in the 1st Corps Headquarters Signals Company.
Portal transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1915 and initially qualified as an observer before becoming a flying officer. By the end of the First World War he had won the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross and had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. During the war he flew more than 900 operational sorties for tactical reconnaissance, artillery fire direction, and night bombing.
Portal remained in the recently created Royal Air Force and in 1927 took over the No 7 Squadron. Over the next few years he developed techniques to improve bombing accuracy.
In February, 1934, Portal was appointed commander of British forces in Aden. While there he tried to demonstrate how the threat of air power could control hostile tribesman. While in Aden he was promoted to air commodore (January 1935). After joining the staff Imperial Defence College he became and Air Vice Marshal (July 1937).
Portal was appointed as Director of Organization at the Air Ministry and with the threat of war he was given the responsibility of establishing 30 new air bases in Britain. In February 1939 he joined the Air Council and on the outbreak of the Second World War was promoted to the rank of air marshal.
In April, 1940, Portal became the head of Bomber Command and on 25th August ordered bombing attacks on Berlin and other German cities. Although this did little material damage it had have the effect of encouraging Hermann Goering to switch his Luftwaffe attack from British airfields, factories and docks to urban areas. This helped the RAF survive the Battle of Britain but helped cause the Blitz.
Winston Churchill was very impressed with Portal's performance as head of Bomber Command and described him as "the accepted star of the Air Force". He was knighted in July 1940 and three months later was promoted to the rank of air chief marshal and appointed as chief of the air staff.
With the new head of Bomber Command, Arthur Harris, he developed the policy of area bombing (known in Germany as terror bombing) where entire cities and towns were targeted. Portal and Harris argued that the main objectives of night-time blanket bombing of urban areas was to undermine the morale of the civilian population and attacks were launched on Hamburg, Nuremberg, Cologne, Dresden and other German cities. This air campaign killed an estimated 600,000 civilians and destroyed or seriously damaged some six million homes. It was a highly dangerous strategy and during the war Bomber Command had 57,143 men killed.
As a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Portal had a significant influence on Allied strategy and other important matters of military policy. Winston Churchill valued Portal advice but in March, 1945, he gave instructions to bring an end to area bombing. As he explained: "It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land."
Portal was created a baron in August, 1945 and the following year was raised to viscount. After the war he was Controller of Atomic Energy (1946-51) and president of the MCC (1958-59). In 1960 Portal was elected Chairman of the British Aircraft Corporation. Charles Portal, who declined the offer of writing his memoirs, died on 22nd April 1971.
It is very disputable whether bombing by itself will be a decisive factor in the present war. On the contrary, all that we have learnt since the war began shows that its effects, both physical and moral, are greatly exaggerated. There is no doubt that British people have been stimulated and strengthened by the attack made upon them so far. Secondly, it seems very likely that the ground defences and night-fighters will overtake the air attack. Thirdly, in calculating the number of bombers necessary to achieve hypothetical and indefinite tasks, it should be noted that only a quarter of our bombs hit the targets. Consequently an increase of bombing to 100 per cent would in fact raise our bombing force to four times its strength. The most we can say is that it will be a heavy and I trust a seriously increasing annoyance.
"A" was to build up the resources necessary to get a decision by invasion before German industry and economic power had been broken;
"B" was to shatter German resistance by air and then put in the Army;
"C" was a compromise under which we tried to build up simultaneously strong land and air forces on a scale unrelated to any particular task, without any clear intention of attaining a definite object by a definite time.
For his part, he favoured course "B", for which he thought a combined heavy bomber force rising to a peak of between four and six thousand might be necessary.
It is difficult to estimate the moral consequences of a scale of bombardment which would far transcend anything within human experience. But I have no doubt whatever that against a background of growing casualties, increasing privations and dying hopes it would be profound indeed.
I am convinced that an Anglo-American bomber force based in the United Kingdom and building up to a peak of 4,000-6,000 heavy bombers by 1944 would be capable of reducing the German war potential well below the level at which an Anglo-American invasion of the Continent would become practicable. Indeed, I see every reason to hope that this result would be achieved well before the combined force had built up to peak strength.
Charles Portal - History
Hotspots link to details of the Royal Portals
Built as one of the last parts of the Romanesque Church of Chartres, the west portals, or so-called Royal Portals, are one of the few surviving parts of the earlier church incorporated into the High Gothic Church constructed after the devastating fire of 1194. These portals are the major monument of Early Gothic sculpture. They are clearly based on the now fragmentary portals of St. Denis.
The different fields of sculptural decoration, including the tympanum, archivolts, lintel, and jamb figures, are clearly derived from comparable forms in Romaneque portal sculpture. Compare for example the Royal Portals to the portal from Moissac:
An important theme in Early Gothic sculpture like architecture is integration. For example, note the integration of the different elements of the portal evident in view of the south portal or Incarnation portal:
Notice in particular the diagonal splaying of the jambs and archivolts which allow them to be connected.
The theme of integration can also be seen in the overall programme of the sculptural decoration where all the elements are coordinated into a coherent iconographical plan focusing on the Comings of Christ in the Christian plan of history. The tympanum of the south or right portal focuses on the theme of Incarnation:
The Incarnation is the theme of the north portal of the narthex portals at Vezelay. Compare the treatment of this Romanesque portal done to the Early Gothic of Chartres.
The lintels of the Royal Portals represent episodes from the infancy story of Christ beginning on the lower left with the Annunciation followed by the Visitation, the Nativity, and the Annunciation to the Shepherds. The upper lintel focuses on the story of Christ's Presentation in the Temple. The tympanum is dedicated to an image popular in Romanesque art, the Sedes Sapientiae or Throne of Wisdom:
Throne of Wisdom, 3rd quarter of the 12th c., Auvergne, Musée de Cluny
Christ as Wisdom is formally seated in the lap of His mother the Virgin who is understood as Ecclesia or the Church. This theme took on greater significance at Chartres since the church was dedicated to the Virgin. Also Chartres during the twelfth century was the site of a very important cathedral school. Significantly, the archivolts can be identified as the Seven Liberal Arts and their practitioners:
Here the second figure from the bottom can be identified as the personification of Music playing bells while the figure to the right is Grammar holding a switch disciplining her students. The figures beneath them have been identified as Pythagoras and either Priscian or Donatus, two noted Latin grammarians. Above the personification of Grammar in the outer archivolt appears probably the ancient astronomomer Ptolemy. Above him appears the personification of Astronomy who gazes to the heavens while holding an unidentified object in her left hand. The appearance of the liberal arts here makes the contrast between the divine knowledge or wisdom of Christ as opposed to the human knowledge of the liberal arts. In this program all knowledge is seen to be derived from and returns to Christ. The representation of the Liberal Arts can be compared to the illustration from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg from the later 12th century.
In the miniature the female personification of Philosophy is in the center bearing scroll that all wisdom comes from God.
Note how the central axis of the tympanum and lintels integrates the different levels with Christ as the center. On the bottom lintel Christ is placed on a form that has been identified as an altar beneath which lies the Virgin. In the upper lintel Christ is placed over an altar, while the lap of the Virgin in the Sedes Sapientiae can be understood to be like an altar. The repeated references to the association of Christ to the altar make the point that we should not just see this as a narrative of the infancy of Christ but also as the eternal "incarnation" of Christ in the sacraments of the Church.
Balancing the Incarnation on the north or left portal is a representation that has generally been identified as the Ascension of Christ:
The figure in the center of the tympanum appears to be Christ assisted by two angels ascending above the clouds. In the lintel below appear four angels swooping down to the group of ten seated figures in the lower lintel. Generally it has been understood that there are ten figures because when the portal was repositioned into the new facade of the High Gothic church it was necessary to delete two figures thus making the ten figures the apostles. This would make the portal to be a combination of the Ascension of Christ with the Mission of the Apostles echoing the comparable conflation that occurred on the central portal of the narthex of Vezelay:
The significance of the number ten would not have been lost on the medieval observer: a symbol for the Ten Commandments. The archivolts of the Ascension portal represent symbols of the zodiac and the labors of the months :
Reading the outer archivolt clockwise, the figure at the bottom is the Labor for August with a man sheathing grain. Above is the zodiac symbol of Leo, while above this is the Labor for September of picking grapes. The inner archivolt begins at the bottom with the Labor for May, man holding a hawk stands by a horse. Next appears the zodiac symbol of Taurus, followed by the Labor for June, a man cutting hay with a now lost scythe. We have seen the combination of symbols of the zodiac and the labors of the month in Romanesque sculpture like Vezelay and St. Lazare at Autun:
We can thus look at the Incarnation Portal as the entrance of Christ into the world while the Ascension rerpresents Christ leaving temporal existence and returning to God. This leads to the culmination of the iconographical programme with the central portal representing the Christ in Majesty at the Second Coming:
Christ is placed in the center within a mandorla of light and is flanked by the four beasts of the Apocalypse. On the lintel appears the Twelve Apostles significantly divided into four groups of three figures. The single figures at either end of the lintel have been identified as the Old Testament prophets Enoch and Elijah who are noted for their prophecies pertaining to the Second Coming. The figures in the archivolts are the 24 Elders. This makes an excellent comparison to the treatment of the same subject matter at Moissac:
Compare and contrast especially the central figures of Christ in Majesty from the two tympana:
The tympana, lintels, and archivolts thus focus on the pivotal events in Christ's mission as part of the Divine Plan: Christ's entrance into the world through the Incarnation, His departure with the Ascension completing his earthly ministry, and His Second Coming at the end of time. The capitals below illustrate the life of Christ.
The jamb figures that flank the portals are understood to be based on the corresponding figures from the now largely destroyed portals of St Denis. Eighteenth century engravings by Montfaucon give us an idea about the original jamb figures at St Denis:
The jamb figures at St Denis are understood to be representations of the royal lineage of Christ in the Kings and Queens of the Old Testament. This theme of kingship was central to Abbot Suger's ideology. These Old Testament Kings and Queens were not only understood as ancestors of Christ but important precursors for the Kings and Queens of France. We have already noted this theme in the treasury of St Denis which link the French Kings back to kings like Solomon, the Ptolomies, Charlemagne, etc.
Although scholars still debate about specific identifications, the jamb figures of Chartres clearly extend this theme of kingship:
The logic of the portal design clearly connects these jamb figures to the figures above, clearly defining the Divine source of Royal power in the image of Christ in Majesty. These jamb figures also serve for us entering the church as intermediaries to the figures above. This thus places us in relationship to this hierarchy of power descending from Christ above to the symbols of earthly kingship below.
These jamb figures also present significant comparisons to Romanesque precedents. For example compare these figures to Romanesque figures like the St Paul from the trumeau of Moissac:
Or the Sts Peter and Paul figures from Vezelay:
Closer examination of the jamb figures from Chartres reflects a considerable change in style:
Romanesque elements are still apparent in details like the crossed leg motif:
But notice the considerable difference in form from figures like the Prophet Jeremiah from the trumeau of Moissac:
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Charles Portal - History
Butler: Today is April 29, 1999. This oral history is with Dr. Charles Berry, at his offices in Houston, Texas. This oral history is being conducted for the Johnson Space Center Oral History Project, by Carol Butler, assisted by Summer Chick Bergen and Tim Farrell.
Thank you for taking the time and joining us today.
Berry: You're very welcome.
Butler: To begin with, if you could give us a little bit of the background that led you to becoming involved with aerospace medicine.
Berry: Led me to be with aerospace medicine, not necessarily with the space program?
Berry: Well, I was in what today would be called family practice, general practice in Indio, California, down in the Southern California desert. I had had some time in the Navy V-12 program just prior to the Korean War, and I was discharged with no ties. I didn't have to be in reserve or anything. Then when the Korean War started, suddenly everybody was getting recalled, but I wasn't in a reserve thing or anything. I felt I had to do something. I was going to get into the service and spend at least two years, so that I got that specter out of the back, looking over my shoulder, when was I going to have to go and do some service or would I ever have to.
So I decided I was going to go into the Air Force, and I went into the Air Force. Then very shortly, within about three months after I went on active duty, I was at a base in California north of San Francisco, and they called me from Washington [DC] and said, "Would you like to get some more training while you're in?"
I said, "I think that would be fine, yes. What are we talking about?"
They said, "Well, there's a new course, a new thing that the Air Force is going to do."
At that time, the word "space" wasn't in anything. In fact, in the Air Force we were forbidden to use the word "space," and so we were talking about aviation medicine. They said, "There's a new course in aviation medicine, and would you like to go?"
I said, "Well, yes, that would be fine."
So they said, "Okay," told me how to apply, and I did. And lo and behold, I came to San Antonio [Texas] to then Randolph Field, where the School of Aviation Medicine was.
When I arrived, to my chagrin, I found out that this wasn't just a course this was a residency program. General Benson [phonetic], who was a commander of the school at that time, had worked very hard with the AMA, the American Medical Association, and some of the other medical organizations, the medical boards, in trying to get a board for aviation medicine. There would be a residency training program and then they would board-certify people who finished that training program as a specialty in aviation medicine, which did not exist at the time. This was in 1951.
So I found, gee, this is not just a little course I'm going to. This is a one-year program, and then you're supposed to go to another year. At that time it was going to be at Johns Hopkins [University], and then you were going to have another year's training in the field. Well, that meant that you were going to pay back time for all of those, too.
So we went through the year, which was a great year, and they put us through Air Force pilot training, too, at the latter part of that year, up at Goodfellow Air Force Base [Texas]. In fact, there's a picture over there, I think, and a T-6. They put us in yellow T-6s so they could see you for a long way away, and called it "the quack squadron." So we got trained to fly T-6s.
Then at the end of that program, we suddenly found out that—General Benson said, "Well, what they've decided is that Hopkins won't take you for the second year unless you've graduated in the upper 50 percent of this class, and you have to have graduated in the upper 50 percent of your medical school class." Well, we had twenty-five people in the program, and it turned out there were only seven of us that fit that category out of the twenty-five. So of the seven people, General Benson called each one of us in and he said, "Well, Dr. Berry, we know where you're going to go. You're going to go to Hopkins next year."
And I had thought about this all night the night before, and I said, "General Benson, I really don't want to go to Hopkins right now." [Laughter]
And he was not very happy about that. In fact, he was very unhappy. He said, "Well, you've got to go."
I said, "Well, let me tell you very honestly." I said, "I'm convinced that what's going to happen if I go ahead and complete this program now, I'm going to end up in a command position all the time and I'm going to be telling people how to do aviation medicine, and I've never been in the field to do it, not out in the field." I said, "I think that's wrong, and I need some time in the field."
Underneath that surface, I also felt, okay, then I can make up my mind am I really going to end up staying with this whole thing, too. I was pretty turned on by that year, so I had really felt that I might stay, but I left a practice with a partner who was expecting me to come back.
So I was sent—first I had orders to Korea, and I had those for about a week. Suddenly I got changed and they sent me to Panama. So I arrived in Panama. It was an amazing, amazing three years that I spent there, because I was supposed to be for one year. He said, "I'll let you go to the field, but you're going to go for one year, and I'm going to call you back, and you're going to go to Hopkins."
I said, "Okay. Fine. We'll do that." So I got down there, and I found out that there were a lot of things that—we had a rescue squadron there, and I flew a lot of air rescue missions, got to do some really interesting things. We were responsible for the missions in Central and South America, and for Military Assistant Groups in all those countries, so I was able to set up aviation medicine programs for a lot of countries in Central and South America.
Then I dug up—literally dug up out of the ground an old altitude chamber that had been down in Panama during World War II, and it had been buried with a bunch of old tires. I heard a story about this, so we went excavating one time and found this chamber, dug it up, refurbished the whole thing, and set it up, and we started doing altitude training there, not only for our people, but for the Central and South American Air Forces.
So it was a pretty exciting time. I get a call at about nine months, from General Benson, and he said, "Okay. We're sending you orders to come back to Hopkins."
And I said, "General Benson, I really don't want to come back right now. I want to finish this tour here. I'd like to finish the three years and then come back. Honestly, I'll come back." [Laughter]
He said, "You get on an airplane." The commander of the Caribbean Air Command, he said, "You get him and you get on an airplane, and you come up here to Washington [DC] and we'll talk about this."
So we did. We go up to Washington, sat down with him, and said, "Okay. Here's what's been going on, and here's the things that I'm doing."
The commander said, "Yes, and we really need him to stay and do this and get all of this stuff completed, at least get it all started right."
So he said, "Okay. If both of you document all of this, I'll see that you get a year of your residency credit for that time, and then you'll come back."
Well, by the time I was ready to come back at the end of the three years, they had then started the program at Harvard [University], so you could go to Harvard or Hopkins. Ross McFarland [phonetic] was a very famous physiologist who had worked with Pan American Airlines to set up their routes all over the world, and he'd done a lot of things in the aviation world and was really good in that field. So I wanted to go to Harvard and have that year with him. So I got to go to Harvard and I spent the year at Harvard.
Then I came from Harvard back to the School of Aerospace Medicine. Then while I was there, first year I was assistant chief, and for the second and third year that I was there, I was the chief of the Department of Flight Medicine then for the school. We taught both the residents and we taught short-course people who came in and became flight surgeons. They were only going to spend two years in the Air Force and get out. So we taught all those courses and we got to do research there.
During that time period they set up the boards. The boards had been set up then. In 1953, the board was actually established, and so I took the board exams right after I finished the time at Harvard. So then I was a specialist in aerospace medicine, although aviation medicine is what it was then. We still weren't allowed to use the word "space" at that time.
However, during the time I was at SAM [School of Aerospace Medicine], I was involved with—we were selecting people for special programs like the U-2 flights, the Yuri Powers' [phonetic] people that you've probably heard of. So I would go down at night to Laughlin Air Force Base [Texas] down on the border of Mexico, and we'd get a pilot into a partial pressure suit, which was what we had at that time, and launch them in the U-2. Then I'd get back before breakfast in the morning and not be able to tell my wife where I was or what I'd done. And she's still with me after fifty-four years, so it worked, anyway. [Laughter]
Then there was a program that was called Man in Space Soonest. We were going to try and launch—it was a secret program, and they were going to try and launch a volunteer suborbitally, like Al [Alan B.] Shepard [Jr.], like we did with Al Shepard eventually, but we didn't really have a good rocket to do that. We didn't have a spacecraft. They were going to sort of pad the nose cone of a V-2, the V-2s that we captured from the Germans after World War II. So I was supposed to pick some volunteers for that, and we had selected a prime and a backup guy to do that. President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower decided that was not a very good program, that we didn't have a really good way to recover the people, and if we didn't, we were going to have them dressed the same way out in a raft and pick them up. So, decided there's got to be something done better than that.
The next thing I knew, I had a set of field orders that said, "Go to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base [Ohio] in civilian clothes and you'll be met and told what to do." I'm still at SAM now, in the Air Force.
General Benson is now back from Washington [DC] at the school, commanding the school again. So I went and told him I had these orders and he had to get somebody to cover for me in my teaching load and things. He said, "You can't go to Wright-Pat. I don't know why you're going there. I haven't heard anything about this."
I said, "Well, I've got a set of sealed orders here, and I don't know why I'm going either." [Laughter]
He called Washington [DC], and they wouldn't tell him anything. He said, "You can't go."
I said, "Well, I'm sorry. I've got the orders. I've got to go." So I went.
I went to Wright-Pat, was met and taken to some little cottages that were in the woods, that were built there during World War II. I went in, and there were two guys sitting at a table. I said, "Okay, what am I here for?"
They said, "Well, you're here to select astronauts."
I said, "Okay." [Laughter] And, "What's an astronaut?"
They said, "Well, that's what we're going to try and define here."
So we were involved in the selection of the original seven guys at that time. What we were doing, they had already been called in to Washington [DC], graduates from the test pilot school, both the Air Force and the Navy, and then the volunteers from that had been sent out to Lovelace Clinic [New Mexico]. You read that probably in that other interview. They'd been sent out to the Lovelace Clinic for the physical exams at that time, because we had been sending U-2 pilots out there.
Then they came to Wright-Pat and we did a lot of stress testing things that were aimed at trying to expose them to the space environment as people said it was going to be, and we suspended them in an onychoid chamber. Have you ever seen an onychoid chamber, with all the little baffles and things it in? It's totally—I mean, you can hear your heartbeat and everything because it's totally silent in the chamber.
We put them in there in the dark and suspended them so that they weren't touching anything. They were suspended with wires, and left them in there for six hours in the dark. Now, that's dumb when you think about it, because the thing I didn't like about it, I said, "If we ever have an astronaut in this position, that means that we've really had a failure somewhere and he's out of a spacecraft, and it isn't going to make a lot of difference anyway then. So this doesn't seem like a very realistic kind of thing to do." But we exposed them to heat and cold and ran them on treadmills which were not being used anywhere else at that time. Exposed them in partial pressure suits.
We did all of this before we exposed the crews to it, or these people to it, and then we ended up selecting the original seven guys at that time. So that was my entry into what became aerospace medicine then, was through that door, coming through the Air Force. All of the people, really, at the beginning of the NASA program were borrowed then from the Air Force, Air Force or Navy. Most all of us came originally from the Air Force.
I think in one of those other interviews that you have that I've given at the Center [Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC)/Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, Texas] back in 1960-something, I had told about going—I was called after that selection program. I was sent—amazing. I was sent to Hollywood for three months to be a technical advisor for the Air Force on a TV series that was called "Men Into Space," and we actually went to the Moon. Bill Lundegan [phonetic] was playing an Air Force colonel, and his wife was Angie Dickinson, very young at that time. And we got to the Moon in that thing. It was a series before its time, because I don't think it did very well, and it didn't last over, I think, that season.
After the three months that we had made a whole bunch of the sessions for that, then I went to the Surgeon General's office in Washington [DC]. During the whole time in Washington then, I spent 50 percent of my time with what was then the Space Task Group [STG]. NASA hadn't been formed yet it was the Space Task Group. They were located at Langley Air Force Base down in Virginia. They were trying to set up some things to select and monitor. We wanted to get some medical monitors to send around the globe, because we had to build sites around the globe to monitor flights.
At that time—it's hard to realize that today, but we had data come only by teletype. So we would not know that a spacecraft was launched, for instance, if you were at the Bermuda station or the Canary Islands station. The spacecraft would be overhead if it was launched, before you got any word from the Cape [Canaveral, Florida] that it was launched. So you sent data back and forth by teletype. So you had to have monitors out there. By the time we got into the Apollo Program, at my console at the [Mission] Control Center in Houston, I could have contact with the spacecraft, because we had some satellites up. I could have contact with the spacecraft virtually all the time. Not when it was behind the Moon eventually, but virtually most of the rest of the time we could contact the spacecraft and we could contact all the ships that we had out for any recovery operations. So you had contact with everything from the one place, and you didn't need to send monitors out anymore. So we trained monitors and sent them out.
I spent a lot of time going to both the Bermuda station and the Canary Island, setting up both the Bermuda station, which was set up as a backup Control Center, and then the Canary Island station was our test station, and we used it to test both with unmanned flights and then with the animal flights, too. So that was what I did then for another three years in the Surgeon General's office.
Then we were launching John [H.] Glenn [Jr.], and we had a lot of trouble with the rocket. As a result of that, we had to stop the launch, I don't remember, I think at least twice, and not launch, call it off and regroup. So I was at the backup control at Bermuda, and so Chris [Christopher C. Kraft, Jr.] and Walt [Walter C.] Williams and Bob [Robert R.] Gilruth called me back and said to come down to Langley and talk to them. They said, "Instead of spending half your time here, we've got to have you full time," and they wanted to try and set up a medical operations organization in the Space Task Group for NASA then.
NASA had been formed, and they were looking for a place to put the Center. That was about the time that they were trying to select a place for the Center. We had spent a lot of time both with President [John F.] Kennedy and President [Lyndon B.] Johnson, running back and forth to the Cape and things, and going to the White House and so forth.
By that time we knew that we were going to have to go to the Moon right after Al's flight of fifteen minutes. President Kennedy said that he thought that we ought to go to the Moon, with fifteen minutes of suborbital flight, and we thought that was a pretty dicey thing to do, but, okay, we would try that. So I said, "Look. I don't want to get out of the Air Force." At that time I had about fifteen years of time, and I said, "I really don't want to do that." I said, "If you can get the Air Force to send me on a duty assignment, then great, that's what I'd like to do."
[D.] Brainerd Holmes was the head of Manned Space Flight in Washington [DC] at that time, and so he and George [M.] Low and Bob Gilruth wrote a thing to the Air Force, and they got me assigned from the Air Force to come to the—we were going to move the Center. By that time they were moving it to Houston from Langley.
So I was coming on an assignment, and the first thing that happened, we had all the difficulty at that time that had done on with Deke [Donald K. Slayton] and his heart problem, with atrial fibrillation, and so the first job I had before I even got there was to try and see what I could do about Deke. So I took Deke up to Boston to [Dr.] Paul Dudley White, who was probably the most famous cardiologist in the country, maybe in the world at that time. To avoid the press people, we went up an alley and climbed in the back window of his office, because press people had gotten some word that this might be going on, that there was going to be a visit to Paul Dudley White. [Laughter] So that was the first job I had.
Then I came down to the Center. It wasn't the Center yet. We were in Houston, in town at that time. That was the start of the rest of the story from that time on.
Butler: Maybe before we go any further, we can jump back and cover a few things in a little more detail.
Butler: In fact, going back quite a ways, you mentioned that you weren't allowed to say the word "space."
Berry: That's right.
Butler: What was the motivation behind that?
Berry: There was a big battle that was going on about who was going to do anything with space. Obviously, the Air Force was—I mean, if we're flying aircraft, the Air Force felt that space should be their environment, and that it ought to be their responsibility. That didn't end very fast, as a matter of fact. [Laughter] It went on for quite a while. There were people in the Navy who thought, well, they flew airplanes, too, and that they thought maybe they ought to have that role, too. So there was some battling going on within the services, then also with, at that time, early the Space Task Group and then finally NASA, as to who was really going to have that role.
The Air Force, the first two years that I was there, now when I was in training there and was gone for the three years, and then when I came back, for the first year I was back there, we still weren't allowed to use the word "space." You couldn't call anything "space." We were doing some space—well, we couldn't use the word "space," but what we were really doing was using sealed cabins, and we were exposing people, so you put them in sealed cabins for like twenty-one days and see could we supply everything and what was the response to that. So there were things like that going on.
Of course, we'd been involved in the Air Force with the U-2s, and with pressure suits. [Dr.] Stan [Stanley C.] White at that time was at Wright-Pat, and I was at the school. He was dealing with suits and things of that sort, more with the hardware end of the program. So the people in the Air Force felt, okay, we ought to have space, but the Air Force Command people and clear up to the chief of staff level said, "Well, there isn't any space activity within the thing."
There was also a problem because they were trying to assign the mission to NASA. As NASA was created, then that mission was assigned to NASA. When that happened, then it sort of broke loose and you could still, because you were going to contribute to that mission, then they even set up a Department of Space Medicine at the school. That was set up in the latter part, the last two years I was at the school we had a Department of Space Medicine. Paul [A.] Campbell was a guy who was very active in that. We had Dr. [Hubertus] Strughold there, who we had brought at the time that [Wernher] von Braun—when we captured von Braun and all the guys from the Paper Clip Operation at the end of World War II and we brought a bunch of German scientists to the School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio [Texas].
Berry: So that was the group that was involved in that at the time.
Butler: When the space exploration area was given over to NASA and actually the Space Task Group to begin with, was that a surprise or had you kind of expected that that would become, or had you even thought about—
Berry: I think some of it was a surprise to people in the Air Force that they were doing it as a civilian operation. I think there was some surprise initially at that time. It made a lot of sense, though. Afterwards I think it made a lot of sense, but the people that were—it's like they took this old NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics] group, you know, and they had been out on the research edge of aviation all the time, and it was very engineering oriented. This wasn't a medical program. This was an engineering-oriented program. I think that was done very well. But there were battles that went on clear up—what was the program? Dyna-Soar. There was a Dyna-Soar Program.
When they finally wiped those programs out of the Air Force and we ended up in NASA taking some of those people, Joe [H.] Engle was one of the guys who came from that program, as a matter of fact. I can't remember. [Richard H.] Truly, I think, came from that program, too. I think he was transferred. The battle went on for a long time about, "Okay, who has what role here?" And it didn't end.
As a matter of fact, I still had problems with that battle down at the Cape for a long time because we had, at Cape Canaveral, at the Air Force base there, they had provided a lot of the support then to the launch operation, and so then we had a battle going on all the time as NASA was—we were trying to be a little bit self-sufficient in the NASA operation, and we did that, but you could never do all of it. We always had to borrow people from the military services to be out at the sites around the globe for recovery operations and that sort of thing.
So a lot of people got involved. You'll find a lot of people around the world who say, "Oh, yeah, I was at NASA. I did these things at NASA," and they were actually in a military operation where we were using them at some of these places. Indeed, we needed them and they spent some time at—we would brief them, spend a lot of time briefing them for the operation that we were going to do for a particular flight. So a lot of people got pulled in to participate because of that.
Butler: That's good that even though there was some bad feelings about where things would go, you were still able to work together.
Berry: Well, we did, and we had to do that. I think if you look at any of the things, if you look at pictures of us giving press conferences before and after missions and so forth, you'll always see some military people up there. You know, a lot of military people were brought in and were assigned to positions, as I was originally a military person, and we never explained that, I guess. But when I came down to NASA on a supposed three-year tour then, I was leaving the Surgeon General's office. At that time General Ollie Neese [phonetic] was the Surgeon General. I thought it was all pretty clear that that's what we were doing and that I was going to be there for a three-year tour.
After a year, I got called in to Washington [DC], and Jim [James E.] Webb, the NASA administrator, said he and George Low and Bob Gilruth had been doing a lot of talking about they needed to make this thing permanent, and they would like to not keep borrowing anybody. So Webb said, "Look. You've got to stay here. I'm being called by General Neese about getting you back."
I said, "Well, why is he calling you about getting me back? I've been here a year. Why is he calling?"
He said, "Well, he calls me almost every week saying that he wants to get you back."
I said, "Well, that's not what the agreement was."
And he said, "I know, but we really need to get it decided, and you have to stay here."
I said, "Well, when do you have to let him know?" I was in his office. He called that morning and we flew up to Washington [DC]. I was in his office about four o'clock in the afternoon.
He said, "I need to know by nine o'clock tomorrow morning."
So I'm in Washington, so I called my wife and I talked to her, and I said, "I don't think there's any question about what we've got to do." I mean, the problem was now instead of fifteen years, I had sixteen years of service in the Air Force, and I obviously couldn't retire from the Air Force. That's a lot of service to have to toss down the drain, but I did.
So I went back the next morning and told Jim that, okay, I was going to do it. So he had twenty-five positions that President Kennedy had given him that were accepted positions, accepted from the Civil Service positions. So he gave me one of those twenty-five accepted positions at that time and so I left the Air Force and then became a civil servant for the rest of the time. [Laughter]
Butler: And it turned out well for you.
Berry: Turned out well. Turned out very well. I wouldn't change a minute of it, not a minute.
Butler: That's good.
Berry: But they were big decisions at the time, and difficult ones. Strangely enough, Bob [Robert C.] Seamans [Jr.], who was the deputy administrator of NASA, with Jim Webb, Bob became Secretary of the Air Force later. I was in Washington [DC] as the Director of Life Sciences for NASA, and he was the Secretary of the Air Force. We talked all the time. If I'd had had any sense then, if I'd had time to think about what was going on at that time, I would have worked out some deal with them to where I would have gotten credit for NASA time some way from a reserve standpoint, and I'm sure we could have worked that out. I've talked with—in fact, I just had a meeting up in Boston [Massachusetts] a few months ago and was talking to Bob Seamans. He said, "You know, that was really crazy. We should have done something about that." I said, "Yeah, we probably should have." [Laughter]
Butler: Hindsight's always 20-20.
Berry: But hindsight is great, yes. It didn't, and it doesn't matter really now. It would have made a difference money-wise, retirement-wise, and a lot of things like that, but that's gone, so there's no point in talking about it.
Butler: Going back, I know it's been covered in some detail, the selection process of the original astronauts, but if you could share with us some of your thoughts at the time about what you were selecting these men to do and how you could even test them, since nobody had done it before.
Berry: Well, of course, that was the difficult part of it, was trying to decide what do you do for these people. One of the things, of course, was by the decision that they would be graduates of the test pilot school, that meant that right away you had a group of people that you were selecting from, who already had been exposed to a lot of danger, which they were going to be. They were going to be exposed to a lot of danger. These people had already been exposed to a lot of danger, had accepted that exposure, and had accepted it with their families. Their families had accepted or not, one way or the other, but at least they'd been exposed to it. So that was an important thing for us, I think, in the selection, and it made the selection easier from that point of view, because you weren't taking a group of people, people who applied, which is going on now, as you know. I mean, you can apply to become an astronaut, and so you have an entirely different group of people.
The first time we faced that was when we did the selection for scientist astronauts, and took the first scientist. That was an interesting selection we did. Totally different kinds of people. Totally different kinds of people. So I think that was the first thing that was important to us.
We actually found out that the things that we had set up there for trying to do—we called it stress testing, which in a way it certainly was. You were trying to recreate some of the stresses of space flight environment, because we were running them on a centrifuge, we were exposing them to altitude, to heat and to cold and all that sort of thing. So we were doing a bunch of that.
However, when we looked back after the first selection, as I tried to set up the second selection session, and we looked at the data from the first one, it was pretty clear that it really hadn't, that that portion hadn't really helped us in culling out people any better than we had done with interviews and background checks.
Background checks turned out to be a very interesting tool for us, where you had information from background checks and from FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] checks and so forth. If an applicant that you're interviewing, you could set that up to where you find out, "All right, tell us about any episodes that you've had. Have you had any times when you've been in difficulty? Can you tell us about any time you've ever had any difficulty? Have you ever had an accident? Have you ever had a near-accident?" etc.
Then if they did not tell you about something that you knew, you could confront them with it and find out what happens as this individual is confronted with something that you knew and that they obviously were not going to tell you. So there were some interesting things that happened with that.
Interviews were very, very important to us and worked out very well. In the first group there was a lot of psychiatric and psychological testing done, with a lot of question by the astronaut, the would-be astronauts, and even then as we did the second selection and went on to each of the selection groups, we still always had a problem with that, because you're dealing with astronauts and with engineers who are not so sure about psychiatry and psychology anyway, and with some reason, I think, certainly. But we were trying to be very straight with the stuff that was done.
As we rated the people medically then, I was on the board as the medical member then, but we did the medical things and the interviews and things. When we brought them in, we'd bring them down to at that time the old Rice Hotel, and we practically took over a section of the Rice Hotel, but it was all very secret, still, like the first one, you know. They came in under assumed names and we got them into the hotel. Then we lived in the hotel for, gosh, I don't remember how long. [Laughter] How long it took us to go through the group. We did all the interviews and things there. We had the medical data already, the testing and things that had been done, the physical exams and so forth.
So I think the interview portions of the thing were probably the thing that really made the difference after we were pulling from this pool of people who already—we were super selecting, if you will, pulling people out of a group that had already been super selected, because they'd been selected as pilots, they'd succeeded in all of that, they'd been through then a test pilot selection, got into a test pilot school. So here now we were even super selecting above that.
But we had guys like Chuck [Charles E. Yeager], who set up at the test pilot school, and those guys were saying, well, all we really needed was chimpanzees anyway and why were we bothering to have these guys, and these guys must be crazy to allow themselves to get into this program. But some of that was going on and was true. It was true, the way they were saying it, at any rate. [Laughter]
Butler: Once the astronauts were selected, what were your responsibilities at that point? You mentioned setting up the network and the monitors there. What else did that include?
Berry: Well, at first we had a Medical Operations Office we set up. It was called Medical Operations. Walt Williams headed the operations side of the house, and Max [Maxime A.] Faget headed the engineering side of the house. Max is still a patient of mine, as a matter of fact. Walt and Chris and Bob Gilruth, too, all wanted to have this operations thing kept on that. They didn't want it—you reported a lot to Bob Gilruth, but they wanted it in the operations outfit.
Walt particularly wanted it to get in the ops [operations] side of the house, which was fine because the job was very, very difficult, because what we had to do was, we were charged with, okay, we were going to keep these crews healthy, and it was my role to do that with whatever we could set up to do it, try it. You were going to select them, then you were going to keep them healthy, and then you were going to do everything possible to get them medically trained, whatever needed to be medically trained for a mission, any of the medical testing. Like if you were going to have to do centrifuge runs, altitude chamber runs, and eventually we got involved in, when we finally decided in the late Gemini Program that we were going to have to do underwater things, too, in the water facility, that we needed to have that. Then we had that kind of monitoring, too.
So you had monitoring for all of that activity, but I felt we had to take care of families at the same time that you were going to—so we had to have some medical care for the families as you were going to provide it for the crews, too.
Then, of course, you had a big role in that you had to do the monitoring during the flights. So we had to set up, have people that were going—initially it wasn't so hard, because they weren't very long flights. It wasn't a hard job at all from a length point of view, except that we set the Center in Houston. We used to go and we'd be maybe a month at the Cape prior to a flight, because the Control Center was at the Cape. So if you're doing simulations or anything, which we had to do a bunch of simulations, and when you're doing simulations, you had to have the Control Center.
So you'd go and live at the Cape for a month by the time you did the simulations, all the pre-flight preps and stuff, and then finally had the flight and the recovery and do the post-flight debriefing and everything. We spent a lot of time at the Cape. We began to wonder why in the world we ever had the Center in Houston when we were doing everything at the Cape.
So it was wonderful when finally, by the second Gemini flight, we had a Control Center in Houston. But that made my life difficult, too, because then we still had to have an operation at the Cape, and so I had to set up another office at the Cape and I had to keep staff at the Cape. Then I had to go back and forth all the time at the Cape, because sometimes you had crews, as we got into Apollo in particular, it became much more difficult, because we had to have training. We then got simulators down at the Cape, so we had flight simulators, we had crews training at the Cape, and we were doing a lot of the last-minute stuff there. You had to keep a handle on that with what was also going on at the Center back in Houston.
It became a complicated thing. And then you're running back and forth to spacecraft testing and acceptance reviews, and then for the reviews that you would do before a mission, and we always did those down at the Cape. You know, it was arranged in a very sensible and, I think, extremely responsible manner at that time. I would say, from my point of view, I think that's one of the things that happened by the time the Challenger [51-L] event came around. I think that we did not have, from everything that I've seen with that, you didn't have the same kind of responsibility lines.
NASA had become very bureaucratic by that time and it had a lot of layers and things. It was pretty clear who was responsible for something in those days. When you had a flight readiness review at the Cape, I would have to make a presentation and say, "Okay, here's what has happened with this crew. Here are the people who are on the crew. Here's what we know about them medically. Here's what we know about their training. Yes, this crew is ready." And I had to sign that this crew is ready. Then Deke Slayton had to do the same thing, and he had to stand up and say, "Okay, here's the thing with the crew."
Wernher von Braun had to do the same thing about the rocket that we were going to use. You had to say any anomaly that had happened in manufacture or anything that had gone wrong in testing. You had to show what had been done to remedy that. And everybody there had to accept that or it wasn't going to happen. It was pretty clear who had responsibility for what. It was a lot of responsibility, but I think that was an important factor in keeping all that straight.
As things get bigger, it's hard to do that, but we were doing that certainly through the Apollo Program. Apollo was an expensive program, because I don't think you could do an Apollo Program in this country today. I really don't think you could pull it off.
Butler: There were certainly a lot of motivating factors back then.
Berry: That's right. Exactly. You did. We were all absolutely, completely dedicated to that, and there was no doubt. I think any one of us would probably have given our lives, and we just about were, as a matter of fact, to make it occur. But it was a particular time where you had a President who had set the tone for it and said, "This is what we're going to do," and then we all became dedicated to it. We had the capability.
They started out selecting metal, you know, base metal, and then you made it into a part, and you followed that. You had quality control that said, okay, you put a tag on some metal and you follow that metal then to a part, and then you tested that part to failure. Then you put it into a subsystem and you tested that from mean time to failure. Then you put it in a system and tested that from mean time to failure. And the requirement of the program was that you had a .999 reliability for everything, and you wanted no single-point failure.
So one day in a meeting, we were in a senior staff meeting, and they said, "Okay. We think we have the .999 reliability." [Tape interruption]
Butler: You were talking about the .999 percent reliability.
Berry: Okay. When we got interrupted. Well, the Apollo Program had this .999 reliability. So they said, "Okay. Chuck, what we want you to do is to give us a .999 reliability for the crew."
And I said, "Well, I tell you, you guys got to select the base metal at the time it was a base metal, and I didn't get to do any of that. We've got a finished product here." We didn't have anything with base metal. "Then you got to take each of the parts and the subsystems and the systems, and you tested them to mean time, to destruction." I said, "The first time I do that with an astronaut, then I will be in jail the rest of my life. So I don't think that's going to happen." I said, "Regardless of that, though, I will tell you that I would put our crews up against your hardware any time, and I think when we assign a crew to a mission, when Deke has picked the crew and then we both agree that they're ready to go on the thing, I think that the crew is going to do as well as the hardware." And I think we got some great missions to show that, like Skylab and Apollo 13, a few things we could show where indeed that was the case.
Berry: The crew has done as well or better, and survived in spite of the hardware. [Laughter]
Butler: That's right.
Berry: So it was an interesting discussion. I like to say that from an engineering point of view, they really did have the capability to do that, and they were able to get a .999. I think that's wonderful, but that's an expensive thing to do for a program, but it's an important thing to do.
When we were doing medical experiments, we had difficulties, too, because they wanted everything that we had aboard the spacecraft, wanted space-qualified. Now, if every piece of hardware that you put on there, sure, you can't just take a stethoscope, if you really lived by that rule, and that makes things—the minute you say something's going to be space-qualified, then a lot of money is going to go to a lot of contractors to say, yes, this piece is space-qualified to go on there. So that makes the experiments really expensive. So there had been a big move, and I think a lot of things now are done that aren't "space-qualified," and I think that's very sensible to do.
Butler: Got to have that balance.
Berry: That's right. Exactly. Price yourself out of business is what you do. [Laughter]
Butler: We've talked a couple of times now, you've mentioned Deke Slayton, and you started to talk earlier about how you and he snuck in through the back way when he did start having his difficulty in Mercury. As you tried to help him through that, of course we know the outcome and that he, unfortunately, did have to be grounded for a while, then eventually did get to fly. But as you helped him through that, how was that for you, working with him and trying to work the situation out?
Berry: Well, it was a very difficult thing, the situation with Deke. It was extremely difficult for Deke, because Deke could never accept the fact that he really had something that was—that it was an illness of any kind or that it was a defect of any kind. If he had had it, his view was, if he did have it, which he finally agreed he did have, then he had had it at the time he was selected, although it didn't show up then. There wasn't any history or anything of it, or any record of anything of it, and he didn't know that he had it. So if he had it, then, okay, he had it, and he had it for a long time. Therefore, he didn't think there was anything wrong with it.
As a matter of fact, we could have him go out and run. Early in the game, we'd have him run, and that would stop it a lot of times. It was very intermittent at the beginning, and it wasn't something that was there all the time. It would come and go. The first time we saw it was on a centrifuge run, and we were doing a centrifuge run up at Johnsville [Pennsylvania] for reentry G profiles, and he fibrillated. We didn't have really good electrocardiograms at that time, and getting him off a centrifuge that's going was difficult, so we got him off the centrifuge and looked at the electrocardiogram and you could certainly tell that, indeed, yes, he is fibrillating.
So the situation initially was with Mercury, then, was he going to get to fly at all in the Mercury. He was taken off early in the thing, as you know. He would have gone on the flight that [M.] Scott Carpenter went on, the flight after John Glenn. He was taken off of that flight. Then when in the program he was made the head of, at that time, the head of the Astronaut Office, was what the position was, and then he later got Flight Crew Operations, which had both an Astronaut Office and a training side, too.
That's a very difficult position, now, to be in. It was difficult for Deke because here he made the decisions about crews. Now, they had to be approved. He decided, "Okay, here's who I think we ought to have on this," and then he had to get that approved, of course. So there was review and so forth, but Deke was really doing that. It was difficult then for him and the other guys originally, only six of them to deal with, and then as we got more, here you have a bunch of astronauts who are going to fly, and Deke is assigning them and he isn't one of them. Now, it was harder for him, I think, whereas, you know, there are a lot of people making these decisions who aren't astronauts flying. But it was a hard time for him.
Medically it became a difficult thing because here you have a grounded astronaut that you're having to deal with to do things with the crews, and I think you know from having read some of the things and probably seen movies and other things, you know that there always are some difficulties with a flight surgeon, medical decisions being made about a pilot or an astronaut. I have this every day here. We have difficulty making a pilot understand that our job really is to try and keep them flying. That's what the whole thing is about. I don't want to ever ground anyone. If I had my way, I would not ground anyone. But I'm going to have to ground someone if I feel that it's a risk to them or a risk to other people. And if it is, then I have to say, "Well, then we can't let you fly unless we can do something to fix this some way or other," and we'll do everything we can to try and fix it. But if we can't, then we have a serious problem.
So you had that kind of a situation going on, and Deke is having to make decisions then. He's trying to protect the astronauts. And the astronaut view, the basic astronaut view was, "Look, there's no reason why we can't fly. Why does anybody think anything's going to happen to us in the space environment? We know we can do this thing. It's going to be fine. Give us a jock strap and a white scarf and we'll go, and that's it."
Well, that was one end of the spectrum, and on the other end of the spectrum we've got, in particular, the editor of Science magazine at that time and the President's scientific advisors, and the National Science Foundation, and people like that who were beating me over the head, saying, "You don't have any data that says it's okay for man to do this. So it isn't safe. You don't have data to prove that it is, and you're not getting any data to prove that it is." And the astronauts say, "There isn't any question." So they don't want any data obtained. These guys are saying, "You don't have any data. You've got to do something," and shooting at the program all the time.
In fact, everything that was ever said, which everything was being said publicly because that was a decision that President Kennedy made at the beginning, that we're going to be public, we're not going to be like the Russians, so everything we did was public. As you know, we had a press conference after the shifts in the Control Center, and we were constantly being thrown out in front of the press people. Anything that happened, I always had the question that I felt like I was in a position where I had a whole stack of reporters out here, and they all were like this, with the things ready, and they had the microphones all stuck up here and the TV cameras were all aimed. They said, "Okay, now, Dr. Berry, what did that astronaut do, and what does that mean to the future of the space program?"
And that's really the way that it was. Everything that happened, the question was, "Okay, man really isn't going to make it." And we were having to make decisions about can we go—as you know, on Mercury we only got about thirty-four hours as a max [maximum] time with Gordo [L. Gordon Cooper on Faith 7 (Mercury-Atlas 9)], and now we're going to go to the Moon, so we had to get the time, the additional time, in Gemini. I think you probably read, I went through a lot of difficulties trying to make that decision and get it accepted, that, okay, we were going to go four, eight, and fourteen days, and we weren't going to fly longer than fourteen days in any lunar mission. So that would be okay if we could do that. But how many people are we going to have do that? Two people in each Gemini flight. We're going to fly two people for four days, two people for eight days, and two people for fourteen days, and then I'm going to say, "Let's go to the Moon." And we did that.
Now, the difficulty in doing that is, you don't know how much of what you're seeing is individual variation, because every human is different. We put us all in a category, but we're all different. So we have different ways that we respond. We say, gee, is that an effect really of the space flight environment? Is that really a weightless result or not? In fact, we had some concern about how much of it was confinement, because we were pretty confined in Mercury and Gemini, really confined. So it was a gutsy thing to do, to say, "Okay, this is what we can do, and we think it's okay." There are a lot of people who didn't think it was okay and that we were really being pretty cavalier about the decisions that were being made.
I have a deep and abiding faith in the human capability to adapt to almost—the human body is set up in a way that it will adapt to most anything within reason, within some reason. It's going to go through adaptive changes. Of course, then the big question, in my mind, is, is what we're seeing an adaptive change and how far can it go and still be adaptive and not interfere with the performance of the individual involved. That was the real crux of everything that we were going to do.
When we got the people to go for those time periods and saw that they could perform and things weren't getting worse, we still didn't know at the end of the Gemini Program, we didn't know which way things were going to go. Had we reached a point where things weren't going to get worse? We certainly didn't know.
As we were facing Skylab, the Russians thought we were absolutely crazy. I was assailed at all sorts of things because we were going to do twenty-eight days and they thought we were out of our mind. They tried hard to—I think they tried hard to sink our program with all of the bad things that they were saying. And they'd had some bad results by then in some flights. They'd had an eighteen-day flight which gave them some terrible results, and that still was before we had done—we'd gone fourteen days, so here was an eighteen-day. Four more days. We thought, "Come on. There's something wrong with that flight."
In fact, that's an anomaly. It is an anomaly in the whole program, and I think it was an anomaly, some of it due to their particular spacecraft environment and some of it due to the individuals involved, too, probably. I know both of those individuals well. But that was a bad result, and they said, "Now, gee whiz, you're going to go twenty-eight days, huh?"
Well, we did that and we had some things happen, but we finally, with the Skylab Program, we were able to decide. We were able to put some end points on a lot of the things. The one that we didn't was a calcium loss. We still weren't sure where that bottomed out at the end of that, but we did with the red blood cell loss and those things, which scared us a lot at the beginning with the twenty-eight-day flight. But we got those things pinned down, but it was a hard thing.
I got way off from Deke. But what happened with Deke, trying to get data and then having the guy that you're having to make the deals with to get the data be grounded medically is not a good position to be in at all. And it was worse when we had to ground Al Shepard. Then Deke made Al Shepard head of the Astronaut Office, and he's now Al Shepard's boss for the whole operation. So now we have two grounded astronauts to deal with. Al was even more bitter about it than Deke.
I had taken Deke—we tried to get him in the Mercury thing, and when I took him to Paul Dudley White, this was at the time of—it was just before Scott Carpenter's flight. It was after John Glenn's flight. So the question was, can we get him to fly at all in Mercury?
[Dr.] Gene [Eugene] Braunwall was the head at the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute in Washington [DC], and he was one of the cardiologists. He's a very famous cardiologist now, too. Gene was one of the cardiologists that had examined Deke earlier. So I got together with Gene Braunwall and I said, "Let's develop a plan of things that we can do to show that he would be okay to fly."
I can't remember if I went to him before. No, I guess I went to him right after we got back from Paul Dudley, so we'd better finish Paul Dudley first. We went up and we went over. He looked at Deke, and we sat and talked. Deke thought that he was probably going to say that it was okay, but then I got a call from Dr. White, Paul Dudley, and he said, "Gee, Chuck, you know, I really don't think that we ought to expose him to this environment that we don't know this much about," and he said, "I just really don't know for sure what would happen." And he said, "I just don't think we ought to fly him alone." He said, "I don't think we ought to fly him alone in a spacecraft," and that became an important thing to Deke, because it said, "Hey, sooner or later we're going to have more than one in a spacecraft." So he said, "Hmm. Okay." But he was pretty put down by that.
To make a long story short, I took him to Paul Dudley White again when Gemini came around. Deke was sure, "Okay, now we've got two people. I can fly now." [Laughter] Well, we went to Paul Dudley White again, and the difficulty then, Deke was fibrillating a lot more often, and he was aware now of when he'd be fibrillating. You'd be in a meeting with Deke, and you could tell when he was fibrillating, because you'd see him sneak over and feel his pulse. He finally got to where it was fibrillating all the time.
So when I took him to Paul Dudley at the time of the Gemini Program, we came out of there, and Paul Dudley White said, "Gee, you know, he's getting worse, and I just don't think we can fly him."
Let me back up. I had gone to Gene Braunwall and we tried to develop a plan that would allow Deke to fly, and we were going to take him in fibrillating, let him fibrillate. When he was fibrillating, then we were going to put him on a centrifuge. We were going to run him to altitude, we were going to put him in heat.
At that time, which is very commonplace today, but a big risky business then, we were going to catheterize his coronary arteries. Nobody knew why—we could never figure out why he fibrillated, and so some of the people said, "Well, he has a shunt between the right and left heart." Some of the other people—I mean, they didn't know that, but they said that's probably it. Some other people said, "Well, it's probably coronary artery disease." So we were going to look at his coronaries and do this thing.
So we did this plan and I took it to Jim Webb, and I said, "Okay, Jim, I want to know. We want to do this on Deke."
I said, "Yes, it's risky, but Deke is willing to take the risk."
And he said, "I don't think we ought to take the risk, because I'll tell you honestly, politically I can't risk flying him." He said, "I can't risk it in this environment when we might be risking the whole program if we flew him and had a problem." So he said, "I just can't do it. So, therefore, I'm not going to okay you doing all this. It's for nought if you do it."
So now Gemini comes and we go back to Paul Dudley, and we came out of there, and it was clear that he was not going to change his mind. Deke and I went out to the Boston Airport, waiting for a flight home, and sat and cried, both of us. You don't see Deke cry very often. It was a very difficult, difficult time, but he knew that at least I was continually trying to do something to get him back. We broke a lot of things trying to get him back.
In the meantime, the Air Force had—have you read his book at all?
Berry: Have you? Okay. Well, Deke had gotten a deal. I had talked to the Surgeon General. Dick Bohanen [phonetic] was the Surgeon General then. I had a deal with the Surgeon Generals that, okay, I was the Surgeon General for these guys as long as they were assigned to NASA, and that the services wouldn't take action on anything that happened to them. In short, if I said they're okay, the services weren't going to say anything about it. Unfortunately, that had not been done—you need to stop?
Bergen: You've got a couple of minutes.
Berry: Okay. That had not been done originally when Deke was seen. He was an Air Force guy, and the Air Force really punted that. I was at the Surgeon General's office at that time just when this decision was being made, and they punted Deke back to us at the Air Force. So a lot of examinations and things were done then, and that was a bad mistake. That's one thing I knew then. So I got an agreement that, okay, I could act as a Surgeon General. When I qualified people, that was never going to be second-guessed by a Surgeon General of one of the services.
However, it happened that General [Curtis E.] LeMay—and why, I do not know, but he got concerned, that he felt that Deke was going to have to be grounded. So General Bohanen had to come and tell me that, "Hey, you know, the chief of staff is telling me that we're going to have to ground Deke."
So I said, "Well, okay, let me—" So I talked to Deke, and Deke said, "Okay, I'm going to get out of the Air Force, then." So we had a press conference the next day, and Deke said, "I'm resigning from the Air Force." [Laughter] And he did. He resigned from the Air Force.
Then I said, "Fine. Okay. Now I'm going to allow you to fly, but you're going to have to fly with somebody else." I said, "You're going to have to have another pilot. I'm going to put you in a Class III status."
Then Al Shepard came along and got grounded, so I did the same thing with Al. I allowed them to fly in the T-38s. So we'd be at the Cape and Deke would say, "Hey, Chuck, I need to get back to the Cape. Come on. You can go with me."
I said, "Sure I can, but I'm not going to do that, Deke."
Then Al and Deke would come to me and say, "Hey, we want to go back."
I'd say, "No. This sounds horrible, but two half-pilots don't make a whole. I'm sorry. You cannot do that. You've got to have another qualified pilot with you." [Laughter] And so that was Deke's situation. There's a lot more to it.
I don't know where you are on that tape. You're okay still?
Butler: We can stop now and change.
Butler: It eventually did work out.
Berry: It did. After that time, I don't remember, because I'm not looking at any dates right now and I can't tell you for sure the timing, but I think it was still during the Gemini Program that Deke had begun to fibrillate pretty constantly, and, as a result, I had done some things. One time I set up a thing. He was fibrillating and so we put him on a bicycle ogometer and did a cardiac output on him while we had him running on the bicycle ogometer at full bore. Then we ran a cardiac output on him not fibrillating. I could show that Deke didn't have a great deal of difference in his cardiac output when he was fibrillating versus when he wasn't fibrillating. But I just had that data in my pocket without being able to do anything with it.
So I decided, finally convinced Deke that we ought to treat him and we ought to stop the fibrillation, and we could do it with medication. So we brought him down to the diagnostic center, hospital, and hospitalized him for a few days and put him on Quinidine and converted him, stopped the fibrillation with Quinidine. So we kept him on his medication, changed him to Quinaglute finally, which is longer-acting, and he was doing okay. He was going along on the medication and not fibrillating.
Then he went on an antelope hunt. He went on an antelope hunt, I think in Montana or somewhere, and he ran out of Quinaglute, so he wasn't taking it. Got back and he still didn't get any, didn't take it, and he started noticing he wasn't fibrillating. So he started keeping records and he meticulously had all these records with dates and times and heart rates.
He finally, after about three months, he came in and closed the door in my office, and he said, "Doc, listen. Really, I want you to know, I've been doing a thing here that I'm sure you're not going to be happy about, but I am not on the medication anymore."
I said, "What do you mean, you're not on the medication?"
He told me the story, that he'd run out. So he said, "Now look at these records. You know, I haven't been fibrillating at all. So what I'd like you to do, I would like to be able to fly again, alone. I'm not talking about going into space. I'd like to be able to fly an airplane by myself."
And I said, "Well, I tell you what that means. Are you willing to take the risk then of—let's go. We're going to have to prove that all these people are wrong." This is now several years, obviously, had passed. I said, "Now I think what we have to do, we need to look at your coronaries and we need to show. We may find that you do have a lot of coronary arteries. That's possible. I can't swear that you don't. But we're going to have to look. So the risk is, if you do, you'll be the only astronaut that we know about his coronaries, but anyway, if we do that, it's a double-edged sword here. It could be good or it could be bad. The other thing we've got to prove is that you don't have a shunt."
So I had met and talked to Hal [T.] Mankin from the Mayo Clinic some time before that. I think I was at an AGARD [Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development] meeting in Turkey. So I said, "I'm going to call Hal Mankin and see if we couldn't do this up there."
So we took Deke, under an assumed name, to the Mayo Clinic, and we set it up. We catheterized him, put a catheter in his right heart, his left heart, and also in his coronary arteries, and we ran him on a treadmill with the catheters in, and showed that he didn't have a shunt and he didn't have any coronary artery disease, which was really sort of amazing, because we got a lot of people younger than Deke Slayton was then who had coronary artery disease. But he did not have any.
So it was a very neat thing, that here, okay, now we had this data. So I wanted to put him back. Now we're at the—in fact, we were getting ready to announce the first Skylab crew, and we were going to have to announce the Skylab crew about—I don't remember, it was a month or something from then.
Jim [James C.] Fletcher was the NASA administrator. So I went to him and I said, "I'll tell you what I want to do. I want to get Deke. I want to qualify Deke. If I qualify him, he's going to be qualified to fly and he's going to be qualified to fly in space, too. So whether he's assigned a mission or not is something else, but that's what the situation's going to be."
He said, "Well, gee." Fletcher was a guy who worried a lot about what the President was going to say and what who else was going to say, to the point—to show you another reason for that—in Skylab we had to have a meeting every Wednesday, and I had to sign a slip and Bill [William C.] Sneider had to sign a slip that it was okay to fly for another week. Those went over to the White House. Fletcher then took them over to the White House.
So here he said, "I'll tell you what. I want you to get a clearance from all of these famous cardiologists who had seen him before."
I said, "You're asking a pretty difficult thing. You're saying I have to get a clearance from all of them before I do that." So I took the data and I went to all these cardiologists, and the only one who wanted to see him was Paul Dudley White. [Laughter] And we took him back to Paul Dudley, and he said, "Okay." He said, "All right, I agree with you. I think you can qualify with the data you've got." But he wanted to see him, too. The other guys didn't want to see him. They looked at the data and all of them, except one, said, okay, they would agree, based on the data that I was showing them, that they would agree it was okay to fly him.
This one was the president of the American Heart Association that year. But he said, "I'll tell you what, Chuck. I don't agree. You've got other qualified people, and I wouldn't fly him because of that. However, I'm not going to make any fuss about it if you do."
I said, "Well, I'm going to, so I appreciate the fact if you're not going to raise a public row about it."
So I went back to Fletcher and told him, okay, we had an approval by everybody except one, but he wasn't going to raise a fuss about it. He said, "Okay."
So at the announcement of the Skylab crew, announced also that Deke Slayton was going to be placed on flying status, and so then that's when he got set up to go then on the Apollo-Soyuz mission.
Butler: It must have been very satisfying to be able to say he can go, and then to see him on that mission.
Berry: Absolutely. Absolutely. There's a thing in my office there, that he gave me the electrode from that flight, with a strip of the EKG [electrocardiogram], which is a normal EKG. [Laughter] He had it mounted in a thing that you can see in there.
That's another interesting story. I left NASA just prior to Deke's flight. Now, I had to get a lot of people convinced with Fletcher. It wasn't hard to get Chris Kraft, Bob Gilruth, and George Low, but I had to convince them and then Fletcher. Well, I had come back here from Washington [DC] as the first president of the Health Science Center here, UT [University of Texas] Health Science Center in Houston. Lady Bird Johnson had talked me into doing that. So I was doing that job.
I get a phone call from Chris Kraft, and he said, "You won't believe what's happened."
I said, "Well, what has happened?"
He said, "Listen." He said, "We are getting the things ready for this Apollo-Soyuz mission. There is a hold at T minus two minutes, and they have presented some mission rules." And here we were, as I remember, something like maybe three weeks from flight. He said, "They've come up with a mission rule that says if Deke is fibrillating at the time of that hold, they're going to take him out of the spacecraft."
He said, "That is not anything that you told us or you agreed to. That isn't something we should agree to."
So he said, "Okay. Bill Sneider is going to call you from Washington [DC], but let me tell you what I'm going to tell them now. I'm not going to listen to any of the people down there. I'm going to cut off the communication to the Control Center with the other medical people at the Cape. We're going to set up a console for you, and you're going to tell me what we're going to do."
I said, "Oh, man. Come on, now. I can think of a lot of analogies about that, but you want me to go to the Cape and do that?"
I said, "Well, I tell you what. You tell the—" So people that had worked for me before and an outside cardiologist, they had had look at this. I said, "You tell them to bring the data and come down here. I'd like to see some current data on Deke. As far as I know, he isn't fibrillating or anything, anyway, and he attributes that to my vitamin therapy," which he does, and he's done. I can a phone call or a letter damn near every week from somebody around the country who reads that, and they want me to cure them. It's unreal. I've got a couple letters on the desk in there right now. But the vitamin therapy, I don't think cured him at any rate. I think it's fine to take—I agree with the vitamin therapy.
I don't know whether the names of those people are out or not, but Royce Hawkins [phonetic] was the doctor that was involved, and the guy that I had finally ended up telling them, okay, they could select to replace me at headquarters, Dave [David] Winter, was there. They had put this mission rule in. So Royce and Earl Beard [phonetic], a cardiologist from here in Houston, came down with the data, and I sat and talked to him in my office at the university. I had more data than they did. I told them about the data I had in my pocket about having run him on the—when he was fibrillating and when he wasn't, and getting cardiac outputs and things.
So they finally agreed, okay, that's right. I said, "Now you're going to go back and you're going to go—" I said, "I'm going to call Chris before you leave here, and you're going to go back and you're going to talk to Chris, and you're going to tell him that that's okay, and you're going to withdraw this mission rule. Is that right?"
"Yeah, that's what we're going to do."
So they went back and told Chris this. He called me back and said, "Well, I'm not changing anything. I still want you to go to the Cape and do this anyway."
Then they got to the Cape. I had a special invitation. That means it was going to be the first launch I ever saw, because I never get to see a launch. I'm always in Control Centers. I said, "The first launch I'm ever going to see." Well, that went down the pike.
I arrived at the Cape, and I was met by this bevy of all of the hierarchy, Chris Kraft on up. They met me at the airplane. I got off the airplane and he said, "You won't believe what happened. I just fired that S.O.B. [son of a bitch] and I sent him home." [Laughter] He said, "He put the mission rule in again here at the flight readiness."
"No, he did." He said, "I fired him and sent him home." He said, "You're going to monitor this thing."
So Deke did not know this. If he had, I don't know what would have happened, had he known it. He found out after the flight, but he did not know it at the time. We purposely didn't want him to know, but we had to tell the commander of the flight, though. It was Tom [Thomas P.] Stafford. He told Deke after the flight, what had happened. So he was dogged clear up until even when he flew, he had the problem, so it almost never ended. But then he didn't die of any heart problem he died of a brain tumor.
Butler: His heart was strong through the end.
Berry: Yes. Absolutely. And he didn't fibrillate anymore, either, and we still don't know why. I still do not know why. It's idiopathic, which just means we don't know why, we don't know the cause. We could not find any cause. All the common causes of fibrillation we had chased down a long time before. He didn't have any thyroid disease. It wasn't from smoking. It wasn't from alcohol. It wasn't from any of the things that you could possibly find.
Butler: Shows how complex the human body is.
Berry: The human body is a very complex mechanism, it really is. Definitely.
Butler: You mentioned Al Shepard a couple of times as we were talking about Deke Slayton, how it was a similar situation but was a shorter time span, I guess.
Butler: Are there any future comments you wanted to make about him?
Berry: Well, Al developed Meniere's Syndrome, and it is a syndrome that we feel is caused by increase of fluid pressure in the inner ear. In the inner ear, as you know, there are three semicircular canals that pitch, roll, and yaw, really, and that give us the primary balance sensor in the body. The otolith, then, at the bottom of those semicircular canals, which is involved in motion sickness and space motion sickness, but then there's also a cochlea, which is where it picks up our hearing. Those have a fluid called endolymph in them.
The increase in that fluid, overproduction of that fluid, and that pressure then on those organs, both in the canals and in the cochlea, causes three primary symptoms that make the diagnosis of Meniere's Disease. It means that you have ringing in your ears, or medically called tinnitus, and then it also produces a hearing loss, and it produces vertigo. You have spells of vertigo which can be severe enough, and were severe enough in Al's case, to throw you to the floor. You're unable to balance at all. This developed with Al.
He developed these symptoms, and he came to the clinic, to the flight surgeon's office, and said, "I'm having a problem," and it's got to be a problem if he's going to come in and say something about it. And it was a problem. It was a big problem, and it got worse. We tried medical therapy, tried some things to see if it would help, and it would help some, but there is no great therapy that does something for this.
To make it real short, this happened, I guess, just before—I think it was just in the very early Gemini, I think, right at the beginning of Gemini, because we had wanted to fly Al on another Mercury flight. I badly wanted to have another Mercury flight, because I wanted to get some additional time over that thirty-four hours. So we thought, gee, okay, we'll fly Al on another flight. So he was certainly all right at that time. This happened, then, I guess, early in Gemini, and it kept him out the whole Gemini Program, of course.
Then what happened is, as this got worse and we weren't doing very well with the medical therapy, it is a disease that sort of waxes and wanes. Sometimes you have it real severe and you'll have a lot of vertigo, and other times not as much.
But there was a Dr. Bill [William] House in L.A. [Los Angeles, California], and there's some question about it. Al says that he heard about this from Tom Stafford, and I'm not sure that's what really happened, but I won't swear that he couldn't have heard about it from Tom Stafford. I had become aware of Bill and the House Clinic, and I had known Howard House, his brother, from the time I was in practice out there, California being home. So he had a theory that this was due to the increase in pressure, and if he could relieve the pressure by an endolymphatic shunt, he could drill a hole, take a little plastic tube, and put it into the saccule, which is at the base of the semicircular canals, and drill a hole then through the base of the skull and into the cerebrospinal fluid. This shunt then, this tube goes into the cerebrospinal fluid so it equalizes pressure all the time between the semicircular canals and cochlea and the cerebrospinal fluid. So it's like a drain. You'll never build up the pressure.
So he was doing this endolymphatic shunt operation. So it was set up then for Al to go out there and get this operation done and see if that would cure this.
Well, we had the operation done, and then I took Al down to Pensacola [Florida] and we ran him on centrifuges, and we took him to altitude. We ran him on slow rotation rooms, and we did everything, trying to create difficulty for this and prove that we couldn't move the tube, for one thing, and, secondly, to show that he did have some recovery here. I wanted to qualify him to fly again.
So, again, we went through a lot of hassle about, "Okay, is this okay to put him back or not?" So I did put him back flying, and then that's how he ended up then with Apollo 14 as a flight. There was a lot of other intrigue with that, but, nonetheless, he got Apollo 14.
The difficulty with that was, there was a publisher named [William] Loeb. I don't know if you ever heard of him. He was the publisher of the Manchester Guardian in New Hampshire. It's a big New Hampshire newspaper. He was a big Republican who felt he was a President-maker, big in politics. He wrote a "Dear Dick" letter to President [Richard M.] Nixon and said that he'd had dinner with some friends the weekend before, and that they told him that President Nixon was risking his presidency if he flew Al Shepard on this flight, if he allowed him to go on this flight.
So I got a call from the White House that said, "Hey, we have a 'Dear Dick' letter here, and we want you to write us an answer for it." So they sent a courier with a letter. [Interruption]
Butler: We were talking about Al and the "Dear Dick" letter.
Berry: The "Dear Dick" letter. Okay. Well, this publisher, Mr. Loeb, had written this letter, and I was concerned. He said he had had dinner with some ENT [Ear, Nose, and Throat] physicians on the weekend before, and they had said that this was a risk to the presidency if they flew him. I was concerned about writing a letter to a newspaper publisher and trying to explain something medically to a newspaper publisher, so I did a little arguing back and forth about, hey, I wasn't sure that we ought to do this, and I wondered if we couldn't say, "How about if we talk to the people that talked with you, and I think we could convince them medically that what we were doing was right." But that wasn't going to work. It turns out, that wouldn't work. [Laughter] They did want a letter to this guy.
So I put together a letter that said, basically, okay, he'd had this diagnosis, we'd had this surgery done, and obviously this is a new operation, and therefore it's controversial, still, and there's some people out there who don't agree with this, I'm sure. Okay. But, nonetheless, we had run him, all the testing we had done, and so forth with him afterwards, and was convinced that there wasn't any hazard or risk with this.
That letter went back, but that didn't really convince. That was sent by the President back to Mr. Loeb, but Mr. Loeb wasn't convinced, and he began to instigate people to write letters. So we'd get a new batch of letters every week that came through the White House, did this clear up until time of that flight.
After the flight we ended up at the White House for a White House dinner, and went through the line, and President Nixon said, "Well, I'm sure you're really happy that Al did so well on this flight, but I bet the thing you're happiest about, you don't have to answer any more of that damn letters." [Laughter] I said, "You're right. That's exactly right. I hope I never answer another one of those letters."
That was one problem with President Nixon. The other big problem I already had with him was on Apollo 11, was where he was going to have dinner with the crew the night before launch of Apollo 11. You probably heard that story somewhere or other. That was another President Nixon problem. He had just become President before that flight and he'd had nothing to do with the space program, of course. Prior to that, President Kennedy and President Johnson had had a lot to do with the space program personally and knew pretty well the kind of things we were doing. We'd had a lot of direct contact with them. So I think there was a lot of trust back and forth.
There was some concern within NASA when President Nixon became President, as to how that was going to go. Frank Borman had just completed Apollo 8, and so it was decided, okay, they would make Frank Borman the liaison to the White House, and he was going to try and get the White House up to snuff about space and getting them involved. One of the things, of course, he and the White House staff apparently tried to get involved, was to get the President involved in some way. Here was the greatest event that was going to happen to mankind, landing on the Moon.
I was just leaving for the Cape prior to—we were going down for the final big physical exam before the flight. I was just starting to leave the house and I got a phone call from an Associated Press reporter that was one of the guys that I knew that was following the space program all the time, was always at press conferences. He called and he said, "Chuck, I just got word that President Nixon is going to have dinner with the crew the night before launch in the crew quarters." And he said, "What do you think about that?"
I said, "I don't know anything about it." I said, "I'm totally unaware of that."
He said, "You haven't been asked about that?"
I said, "No, I haven't been asked anything. I do not know anything about it. As far as I know, that's not happening."
He said, "Well, how is that possible with your quarantine program? How does that fit with your quarantine program?"
So here I am in a very bad spot. I said, "Well, it doesn't fit with the quarantine program." And I said, "You know, there are possible ways that if planning were done and so forth, that something could have been done about that, could be done about that. You know we had a press conference for the crew prior to the time that we had them go to the Cape, and we did that press conference by having them come in with bacterial masks on, and we put them in with a laminar flow room in the front, so they had no direct contact. They had no contact with any air from any of you infected reporters."
I said, "That would be a big operation, but that sort of a thing could be done if it were necessary to do it, but I'm not aware of anything about that."
Well, I arrived at the Cape and there's already newspaper headlines, "Dr. Berry Prevents President From Having Dinner," and all hell broke loose. I guess that's as close as I ever came to getting fired in my life. I had phone calls from everybody. It was embarrassing to the President because he had been led down a primrose path, and he was madder than hell. There isn't any doubt about it, he was mad, because it didn't look very smart. And Borman was mad.
Bob Gilruth and Chris, George Low, all those people were afraid of what was going to happen, what might happen because of it. So finally Frank Borman came by and said, "Listen," even as mad as he was, he made a public thing about, "It was damn stupid," which showed he didn't understand what the hell was going on either. And here we were, I had been charged by NASA to say that we were indeed not going to bring back lunar plague. That was President Johnson's decision after we had tried to convince them that we didn't think any organism could survive in that environment, but the Academy of Sciences, in their wisdom, said, "Well, yeah, but you don't have any data to prove that. You haven't anything to really prove that at all."
I said, "No, no, we haven't. All we can do is go on the basis of what the probes have shown about the environment and what we know about organisms."
They said, "Well, there might be an organism that you don't know."
I said, "Sure, there might be." [Laughter] "But we doubt that."
So then I'm given the responsibility, "Okay, you've got to develop a quarantine program then for an organism that we don't know anything about, and how do we know it will respond to anything that we use as a bactericide here or as a protective mechanism here for anything?"
So we ended up developing a program using a plague model. We were going to use plague as the model. Well, now we have this program all going and if any of us were having any contact, we know everything about us. We've had samples continually. We're sampling everything about us. We knew all of that, and we had very limited as to the people who were being seen. If they came down with anything, whatever it was, a cough, a sniffle, or anything else, we were going to have to prove that it didn't come from the Moon. So I think it would be pretty stupid to let somebody just walk into that situation. It would have been a total breakdown of the program.
So it was bad the way it came out, but I couldn't do anything about it. So Frank Borman came by and said, "Write a letter, handwrite a letter, and I'll hand-carry it to the President." And he did that. I didn't get fired, so I don't know. Then we ended up, we had a big White House thing. It actually didn't occur at the White House it occurred in L.A., after the President had a White House dinner in Los Angeles, after Apollo 11. I went through the line there. He said, "Well, we had a lot of trouble here, but I think all of it was probably a bad misunderstanding that should never have happened." So he wasn't still mad, at any rate.
He went to the carrier, but he talked to the crew, as you've seen, through the mobile quarantine facility window, and not with any direct contact at all. So finally people—I don't know. People still didn't—I think a lot of the astronauts and a lot of the engineering people didn't really understand. It's like pregnancy you're either pregnant or you're not. You quarantine or you don't.
Now, I could show you some places where we still had some breaks. The biggest problem, one of the biggest battles that we had with that program was, we thought you ought to lift the spacecraft onto the carrier deck and then you could connect a tube to the door and transfer the crew directly into the mobile quarantine facility. There was a lot of argument about that. It finally came down to a decision was made that it was not safe to lift the spacecraft onto the carrier deck. So we had to develop some mechanism to get the crew out of the spacecraft and onto the carrier deck and into the mobile quarantine facility.
If you've seen pictures of all that, all the stuff that we went through, you know that we opened the spacecraft and we had a swimmer in a biological isolation garment go up to the door, but we opened that door and threw in three biological isolation garments for the crew to get in. But he opened that hatch, and when you open that hatch, we had stuff come into the air, without any question about it. You know, if it had been lunar plague, I don't know what would have happened. I didn't believe we were going to have lunar plague, but I couldn't go on the basis that we weren't. I mean, a lot of effort was put into trying to prevent that from occurring.
So that was a very, very difficult time, and when you try and quarantine a crew for twenty-one days pre-flight and twenty-one days after flight, that's not an easy thing to do, just that procedure alone, with all of the testing and things that had to be done. And we had to prove that we weren't going to contaminate not only human beings, but we weren't going to contaminate fish and birds and animals and plants and you name it. Any of the Earth's biosphere, we had to prove we weren't going to affect it. So we had to develop an amazing program that was carried off really for three flights' worth. A lot of trouble.
Butler: A good example, though, of when you came into this, when you first became involved, it was aviation medicine, it wasn't even space involved. Then, okay, we're going to put man in space, but what's going to happen to him and how that's all going to work. And then go to the Moon. What's going to happen?
Berry: That's right.
Butler: This was all a learning process.
Berry: That's exactly right. No, that's true. We really felt that the organism thing was something that you shouldn't have to face, but when a decision was made, that you have to. Okay, President Johnson finally said—well, gee, here he's told by the Academy of Sciences that you don't—we all made our arguments, and so then he had to decide. He said, "I'm afraid I can't be responsible for bringing a plague to the Earth, and so if that is a question, I'm going to have to side with, okay, we're going to have to protect somehow."
So then that became a big, big, big problem. There were a lot of unknown things. You know, we had a meeting. We had a thing down at the Center, I guess it was at the twentieth anniversary of the lunar landing. We had a meeting, and those of us who had presented the data at that time, we'd had a meeting and we'd completed Gemini XI. We had one more Gemini flight to go. We were supposed to present where we were, where the capability for the lunar landing, what was our status at that time. So I had put down what the issues were from a medical point of view.
One of the big issues still at that time was, we had not been able to do extravehicular activity, that we had not been able to have one of the astronauts actually produce any kind of effective work outside the spacecraft. I don't know if you remember that whole series of what happened within Gemini, but it was a really difficult thing, and here we had one more flight left.
That's when we then were doing all this underwater business to try and—if you read [Eugene A.] Cernan's book, you'll get some idea about some of that. He really had a bad time outside. They all did. They could not do it. And here we were faced with, we had to have that capability, because they might have to transfer from the lunar module to the command module that way if we couldn't do a docking properly. That was a hazard.
We also were going to have people out on the lunar surface doing activity, so we had to know that we had the capability to do that. So that was a big hole in where we were at that time for getting the lunar landing done. But it was constantly something like that was hanging over us, and always the problem was, well, can the human do it anyway? We were always plagued with that.
We had people clear up—oh, gee, within two or three weeks of the actual launch of Apollo 11, I remember we had a meeting in Bob Gilruth's office, people were coming down there to say that the lunar dust was going to be explosive, and if they got back into the spacecraft with the lunar dust on them, which they certainly were going to do, and then we pressurized it with 100 percent oxygen, which we certainly were going to do, that we were going to have an explosion. So you were constantly getting stuff like that thrown at you, which you have no real answers for. I mean, we didn't have any lunar dust in our hand to say, "No, we know that lunar dust isn't explosive." They had all these theories about what lunar dust was going to do.
Every day that went by, you always had something else that was a problem and was new, as you say. It was new and you had to face it, so you faced the problem and you had to make some decisions sometimes. You were always trying to make a decision that hopefully was going to get us to our goal, but at the same time was not going to unduly risk someone in the process. That was very difficult.
On the fourteen-day Gemini flight, the big problem was, I wasn't sure we could get people to go for fourteen days in that spacecraft, just due to the small spacecraft. The things that you had to do in that spacecraft, I don't know if you've ever been through some of that, but trying to have a bowel movement in that spacecraft is a real operation, with space suits on. And we had to face that. So one of the things I wanted to do was to get them out of the space suits. We had a rule that you couldn't do that. You couldn't take space suits off. George [E.] Mueller was adamant, we weren't going to do that, we weren't going to let them get out of the suit. I went through more hassles trying to get data to show that during the flight, to say, "Look, we've got to get them out of the suit. Look what's happening from—" I used heart rate data and temperature data and everything you could think of, trying to convince them.
We finally talked them into allowing us to get one suit off, so then I could compare the two and try and say, "Okay, now look here. We've got to get both of them out of the suit." But we finally did that. I don't think we would have made that mission had we not gotten them out of the suit. I don't think we would have completed fourteen days in that spacecraft. And that's not due to the fact that the human being can stand it, but it's a very confined environment, and then you put another confining thing with a space suit on, you've got two guys in space suits and they're sitting like this, your leg over in the other guy's lap. It's a really difficult situation, and I think that they made that is really an accomplishment.
Berry: Definite accomplishment. If we hadn't done that, we would have been hard put to say, "Okay, we can do lunar missions." Really hard put. But we did.
Butler: Looking at the buildup, you mentioned earlier, President Kennedy's announcement, after only fifteen minutes of space flight, "Let's go to the Moon and let's do it by the end of the decade," and you've talked here now about the various stages of things to learn along the way. You mentioned that his announcement was a shock.
Butler: When he said that, knowing what you knew about space at the time, and the human body in space, which, of course, was limited, what was your perspective on getting to the Moon? At the time, did you predict what sorts of challenges you'd face along the way?
Berry: Well, I think that, as I said, I really—I mean, everybody had different kinds of reactions. I know what the engineers were thinking: "Man, there's a lot of things got to be done here. We're talking about going to the Moon now. We're just going like this." They had a lot of—and we've talked sometimes about that.
My personal view about that was that I felt that, as I've said, that I had a great deal of faith in the human being and the capability of the human body to adapt. I personally did not believe that we were going to see a show-stopping physiological change. That was my belief, that I did not believe. That was belief. Again, I didn't have data to prove that. We were going to have to get some data to show that, indeed, we weren't having some show-stopper things. That was very important to do.
But then I think initially when that was said, it seemed very bold, but it also seemed like such a tremendous goal, and you knew that you were going to—he said "before the end of the decade," and that seemed like a fair amount of time. At that time we thought it was a lot of time. Then we whopped two years out of it by the fire, and that wasn't too good. We had a lot of difficulty with that one.
I really, my whole attitude was, gee, there are going to be a lot of challenges here to do this. I would have to say that while somewhat startled and surprised, I don't think I ever thought in my mind that we wouldn't do it. And that's strange. I've thought back about that several times and I've wondered why did I not think that there was a possibility that we weren't going to be able to do that.
Now, as we started delineating, defining problems, we didn't know what we were going to have for spacecraft or anything else at that time, exactly what the spacecraft was going to be, that we were going to have two spacecraft or was going to have to dock, because there were arguments about were we going to go on a direct thing or were we going to go in orbit and then orbit. So there were a whole bunch of totally unknown things at that time. So any feeling that I think any of us had at that time had to be based upon just your own ideas about your particular area and then about the faith that people could probably circumvent all of those hazards and problems that you were able to uncover as you went along.
I don't know why, I really don't know why I didn't have more misgivings. I mean, I was in awe. It was a huge, huge endeavor to do. But I really, inside, felt that we were going to do it.
Butler: And did do it.
Berry: And we did. We did, yes. We did. I don't know, it's hard to say why, because, you know, a lot of things—the doubters were always there and they were very vociferous, and they had a lot of power. Had lots of power. Politicians are very susceptible to that kind of thing. If it looks risky, you've got to decide, is that a risk to me? I could not believe that a President would think that his presidency would be affected by whether you're going to launch a certain astronaut or not, but, I mean, that was the political arena, and I think those thoughts were real. It would seem unreal to me, but they were real.
We had some interesting things during the Kennedy administration. Deke and I both got a call from Bobby [Robert F.] Kennedy. This was when we were going to do—I can't remember if it was the second or the third selection. But we got a call, and he said, "We want to assure that there is an African American in the next selection." I did not know that he had called Deke at that time. I got his call and I said, well, at that time we already had a list of the people that were really going to be looked at. We culled the group down. I don't remember what the total number was now, but it seems to me it was something like sixty that we had culled it down to.
So I said, "Well, I don't know that I can—I certainly can't guarantee that, that we're going to have an African American. As a matter of fact, there are two African Americans, I think, in the group, in this group that we've done some culling already. But to tell you that we're going to select one of those, I can't do that. We're going to go down and they're going to be selected based upon the merit, the way we've been doing it. Whether there's going to be one of them, I don't know."
He said, "You did not hear what I said. I said we want to assure—and you will assure—that there will be an African American."
Then Deke came to me and said that he'd gotten a call. So we talked about this, and we ended up making our list. We'd always end up having to take the list, then after it was done at the Center, we'd end up having to take the list to Washington [DC]. So we took the list to Washington, and the two blacks were way down. You'd have had to take another—I don't remember, something like fifteen or something more to get to the first one, and you'd probably have had to take another thirty more or something to get to the second one. And we left the list as it was, with them graded.
Took it up and said, "If there's going to be any change in this list, it's going to have to be done somewhere else. We're not going to change the list." And the President didn't change it, wouldn't change, so that wasn't done. But there's a lot of political things.
Butler: Well, a lot of the motivations for Apollo itself was political.
Berry: Absolutely. Well, I don't think people can really understand today, in our world today, the things that were going on in the world at that time and how important it was to have something good happen, something that was a human accomplishment, when we were doing so much to tear everything down. Gee, we were having riots.
Before we launched Apollo 11, I was going to the Cape from the motel at about—oh, I think it was something like one in the morning. I drove up to the gate, and there were a bunch of African Americans marching back and forth in front of the—Reverend [Ralph] Abernathy and all his people were marching in front of the gate. I stopped the car. I went through the gate and then I stopped the car and got out, and I went back, walked back.
I saw Abernathy in this group and I went up to him and I said, "You know, I do not understand why you would come and try and demonstrate and say that we ought not to have this flight to the Moon. Do you have any concept at all about what this can mean to the world and to us as a nation, having the capability to do this?"
He said, "It's really not about the capability to do this, it's this money that's going to the Moon, this money's going to be on the Moon, and it should be being spent on these people down here on the Earth."
And I said, "There isn't a single dollar going on the Moon. Not one dollar going to be on the Moon. Every one of those dollars that's gone to this program, and a lot of this nation is involved in that, and every one of those dollars is going to somebody down here on the Earth. If some of your people wanted to be working on some of that, they could have done it. I'm sure that jobs are there." So I said, "You could work on it, and you could be getting some of that so-called moon money, if you want to call it that."
"That's not what I'm saying," he said. "The thing is, that money ought to be spent on these people right down here."
I said, "Well, you obviously don't understand what is happening here, and it's being done for your good and for everyone's good. If a nation is great, it's my view that that nation ought to be able to do both things, and we ought to be able to do the things that are necessary here. We need the science and the technology on the cutting edge if we're going to be a nation that's going to progress. If you don't, you're going to die as a nation and you're not going to solve any of the problems here on Earth or anywhere else."
Well, he didn't believe that. I don't think I made any headway with him whatsoever, but I felt better, anyway, afterwards.
But that sort of thing went on. There were a lot of things happening in our world. I tell you, I was really privileged to see a lot of the things that President Johnson and—well, clear up—President Nixon understood that, too. All of those three Presidents certainly utilized the space program as a diplomatic tool for our country, and it worked.
President Johnson sent us on a good will tour after the eight-day Gemini [V] flight, and he sent us to Greece and Turkey and all around Africa. We went to all these places. I wondered at the time, I thought, "I do not—" When we started that, I thought, "I cannot believe we're doing this." [Laughter] They had Pete [Charles C. "Pete" Conrad, Jr.] and Gordo and their wives, and me and my wife, and they had people from the State Department, people from the information Agency, etc., and we went to all these places. Gee, you'd get out of the airplane and we were staying with kings and queens.
In Africa, you'd open the aircraft door and you'd be at the top of the stairs, and all you can see is a mass of nothing but black, as far as you could see, and people with spears and fur, animal fur and what have you. Amazingly, even in these places, people had radios and things, and they knew what we were—and they were excited and thought it was absolutely wonderful. We were mobbed, absolutely mobbed, wherever we went. I saw that time after time.
Then President Nixon sent me, in 1971, as the chairman of a working group on space medicine and biology with the Russians, a joint working group. His idea was that he wanted to sign some agreements with [Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics President Leonid Ilyich] Brezhnev. He thought that space medicine and biology was a noncontroversial area, that if we were able to work out something with that, then it would be sort of a foot in the door to some other agreements. I was given really carte blanche to do the thing. They sent a SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty] Talk interpreter with me, and they sent a State Department guy, but I was told that I did not have to call back for decisions or anything. I could make the decisions there, which the Russians couldn't believe.
We had to come up with something in writing that said, "Here's what we have accomplished at this meeting," and then we had to come up with a second document that said, "Here's what we're going to do." Then when those were agreed to by us at that meeting, then I had to bring it back and take it to the NASA administrator and then to the White House. If they didn't disagree with it in thirty days, it became signed. And it was signed.
The first meeting, I knew that they were going to have trouble talking about—they didn't want to talk about rockets, and I understood that. At the beginning of the space program, one of the things that's clear is the Russians had big rockets. They couldn't build small nuclear warheads, so they had big rockets. We didn't have big rockets.
So their rockets were something they didn't want to talk about, so I wasn't going to talk about rockets, but, to my surprise, I found that they were even reticent and did not want to talk about spacecraft. I said, "Back to Mercury selection, we don't have this astronaut out here in space all by him or herself. It can't happen. They have to be supported by spacecraft. You know that as well as I do. Therefore, we have to talk about the environment that they're in, because the data doesn't mean anything if we don't know what environment they're in."
And particularly that was true with the Russians, because from the beginning of the program, they had space motion sickness all the time. All the time. We couldn't understand that. They thought that we were lying all the time because we didn't have it. There was some lying going on, not by us, but by the astronauts, in that case. But we didn't have the capability to move around as much as they did, for one thing. That's the first thing. The second thing, they didn't have enough fuel to control all the time. So they were doing rolling all the time, and we weren't doing that, obviously. So the environment was an important thing.
At the end of that first meeting over there, they wrote a pretty flowery thing about what we'd accomplished, and I could live with that, with some toning-down about what we'd accomplished. So we exchanged that back and forth. Then the thing that they handed me for what we were going to do said we would continue to talk about man in space. We handed them a thing that said, "In thirty days we'll do this. In six days, we'll do this. In ninety days—" We had every month. "And the next meeting, the agenda will be," whap, whap, whap, whap. They sent it back every time and said, "We will continue to talk about man in space."
So after three days of this, and we'd already met for already two weeks, and then here three days we're exchanging and trying to sign it up, so I told my SALT Talk interpreter that I wanted him to be very careful about how he interpreted what I was going to say. He was very good, because he could tell me when their interpreter was misinterpreting and said something wrong, and he would tell me. So we would redo it and say, "We think your interpreter has told you wrong, and we want you to understand."
I said, "I want to make a statement here this morning." So I said, "Look. We've exchanged these things for three days now, and we haven't gotten anywhere. I am not going back to the United States and take a piece of paper that I've signed that says we're going to continue to talk about man in space. If we're not going to progress, then I'd like you to make sure that we have flight reservations for tomorrow morning, and we're going to go home."
And with that, the KGB [Soviet Secret Police] guy, who was sitting with them on the other side of the table, slipped down in the chair, and his head was about even with the top of the table, and all his papers went on the floor. I thought, "Maybe we're going to get somewhere here," and they called a recess. They went for a recess for forty-eight hours, and we were sitting in the hotel. They didn't call us back or anything.
So forty-eight hours later, they called and said, "All right. We're ready to meet again."
So we went back and sat down, and they said, "All right. We're going to accept your paper and we'll sign it. We'll get it set up and we can sign it at a banquet tonight." But they wanted each word read back and forth, back and forth, that we could agree, make sure that we all knew what the words were. So they did that. We sent the people off to get them into the document, and then they said, "Now, we've agreed to that, but, Dr. Berry, you are being too hard on us. You do not understand our position."
And I said, "Yes, I think I do understand your position. It appears to me that you are really concerned about taking a document to Chairman Brezhnev and having him agree to some things that you're going to do at specific time intervals, because if you don't do those, I don't know, maybe you end up in Siberia. I don't know what they would do to you. But if you don't do that, I suppose that's something that I would be concerned about, and I think that you're concerned. But I think you will do them. I think you'll meet those goals if you do that."
I said, "You've got to understand. I'm not a free agent here. I have to go back and take this piece of paper also to some people. I have to go, first, I've got to take it to the NASA administrator, then I have to go to the chairman of our House committee and the chairman of our Senate committee, and then it goes to the President. Our agreement is that if he doesn't say something's wrong with this in thirty days, it's fine. It's what we're going to do. And the same thing is going to happen with Chairman Brezhnev, so I'm not going to take a piece of paper that says we're going to talk. I'm not going to take that back. So we are going to do these things."
That's what started our joint exchange, and we ended up, we've met every year except during part of President [Ronald] Reagan's reign, when he felt that the Russians were really using us, and he was trying to get things changed about nuclear treaties and weapons and pin them to the wall. They still wanted to keep all these kinds of exchanges going. I was called and asked if what I felt. I said, "Well, for the first time they have more data than we do, unfortunately, but I agree with the position that the only way you’re going to get anything done is to hold their feet to the fire. I think you need to cut it off. I agree. It's unfortunate, the timing of cutting it off, but I think you need to do it."
So it was done. They cut off every exchange, including that one. But then it was started again and now I think I’m doing too damn much with them.
Butler: A whole new relationship.
[Dr. Berry, I have marked the following section. At the end of this section, you make the comment not to print it. If you would like this section edited or deleted, please let me know. We will edit the audio and video accordingly. Thank you, Carol]
Berry: I think we're selling ourselves down the river. I think we're paying their way 100 percent, and I think that's wrong. Don't print that. [Laughter]
Butler: Okay. [Laughter]
Berry: But I do.
Butler: I think we’re probably at a good point to go ahead and close out for the day. There's certainly a lot more that we can go into. I want to thank you for the time you have given us.
After they had been chosen by the Republican Party for renomination during the Republican National Convention in Chicago, President Hoover and Vice President Charles Curtis posed at the White House, June 17, 1932.
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Curtis went on to be a U.S. Senator and then, in 1929, the first person of color to serve as vice president. He and President Herbert Hoover didn’t have a close relationship, and many Americans had the impression that Curtis didn’t really have a role in the White House. In any case, Curtis’ vice presidency was overshadowed by Hoover’s disastrous response to the stock market crash and the Great Depression.
During the 1932 election, Hoover campaign slogans like “Play Safe with Hoover,” “We Are Turning the Corner” or 𠇍on’t Change Now” did little to inspire public confidence in his administration and Hoover and Curtis lost in a landslide to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Curtis continued working in politics by becoming chairman of the Republican senatorial campaign committee in 1935. He died the next year at age 76, leaving behind a complex political legacy.
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The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board
In February, 1891, the first few advertisements started appearing in papers: “Ouija, the Wonderful Talking Board,” boomed a Pittsburgh toy and novelty shop, describing a magical device that answered questions “about the past, present and future with marvelous accuracy” and promised “never-failing amusement and recreation for all the classes,” a link “between the known and unknown, the material and immaterial.” Another advertisement in a New York newspaper declared it “interesting and mysterious” and testified, “as sProven at Patent Office before it was allowed. Price, $1.50.”
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The History of Spiritualism
This mysterious talking board was basically what’s sold in board game aisles today: A flat board with the letters of the alphabet arrayed in two semi-circles above the numbers 0 through 9 the words “yes” and “no” in the uppermost corners, “goodbye” at the bottom accompanied by a “planchette,” a teardrop-shaped device, usually with a small window in the body, used to maneuver about the board. The idea was that two or more people would sit around the board, place their finger tips on the planchette, pose a question, and watch, dumbfounded, as the planchette moved from letter to letter, spelling out the answers seemingly of its own accord. The biggest difference is in the materials the board is now usually cardboard, rather than wood, and the planchette is plastic.
Though truth in advertising is hard to come by, especially in products from the 19th century, the Ouija board was “interesting and mysterious” it actually had been “proven” to work at the Patent Office before its patent was allowed to proceed and today, even psychologists believe that it may offer a link between the known and the unknown.
The real history of the Ouija board is just about as mysterious as how the “game” works. Ouija historian Robert Murch has been researching the story of the board since 1992 when he started his research, he says, no one really knew anything about its origins, which struck him as odd: “For such an iconic thing that strikes both fear and wonder in American culture, how can no one know where it came from?”
The Ouija board, in fact, came straight out of the American 19th century obsession with spiritualism, the belief that the dead are able to communicate with the living. Spiritualism, which had been around for years in Europe, hit America hard in 1848 with the sudden prominence of the Fox sisters of upstate New York the Foxes claimed to receive messages from spirits who rapped on the walls in answer to questions, recreating this feat of channeling in parlors across the state. Aided by the stories about the celebrity sisters and other spiritualists in the new national press, spiritualism reached millions of adherents at its peak in the second half of the 19th century. Spiritualism worked for Americans: it was compatible with Christian dogma, meaning one could hold a séance on Saturday night and have no qualms about going to church the next day. It was an acceptable, even wholesome activity to contact spirits at séances, through automatic writing, or table turning parties, in which participants would place their hands on a small table and watch it begin shake and rattle, while they all declared that they weren’t moving it. The movement also offered solace in an era when the average lifespan was less than 50: Women died in childbirth children died of disease and men died in war. Even Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the venerable president, conducted séances in the White House after their 11-year-old son died of a fever in 1862 during the Civil War, spiritualism gained adherents in droves, people desperate to connect with loved ones who’d gone away to war and never come home.
The Ouija Board was marketed as both mystical oracle and as family entertainment, fun with an element of other-worldly excitement. (Bettmann/CORBIS) Elijah Bond, a Baltimore attorney, was one of the first to patent the Ouija Board. (Robert Murch) Charles Kennard of Baltimore, Maryland, pulled together a group of four other investors—including Elijah Bond—to start the Kennard Novelty Company to exclusively make and market the Ouija Board. (Robert Murch) By 1893, William Fuld, who’d gotten in on the ground floor of the Kennard Novelty Company as an employee and stockholder, was running the company. (Robert Murch) This patent file from the United States Patent Office shows that the office required the board to be tested before a patent would be granted. (Robert Murch) The makers of the first talking board asked the board what they should call it the name “Ouija” came through and, when they asked what that meant, the board replied, “Good luck.” (Robert Murch)
“Communicating with the dead was common, it wasn’t seen as bizarre or weird,” explains Murch. “It’s hard to imagine that now, we look at that and think, ‘Why are you opening the gates of hell?’”
But opening the gates of hell wasn’t on anyone’s mind when they started the Kennard Novelty Company, the first producers of the Ouija board in fact, they were mostly looking to open Americans’ wallets.
As spiritualism had grown in American culture, so too did frustration with how long it took to get any meaningful message out of the spirits, says Brandon Hodge, Spiritualism historian. Calling out the alphabet and waiting for a knock at the right letter, for example, was deeply boring. After all, rapid communication with breathing humans at far distances was a possibility—the telegraph had been around for decades—why shouldn’t spirits be as easy to reach? People were desperate for methods of communication that would be quicker—and while several entrepreneurs realized that, it was the Kennard Novelty Company that really nailed it.
In 1886, the fledgling Associated Press reported on a new phenomenon taking over the spiritualists’ camps in Ohio, the talking board it was, for all intents and purposes, a Ouija board, with letters, numbers and a planchette-like device to point to them. The article went far and wide, but it was Charles Kennard of Baltimore, Maryland who acted on it. In 1890, he pulled together a group of four other investors—including Elijah Bond, a local attorney, and Col. Washington Bowie, a surveyor—to start the Kennard Novelty Company to exclusively make and market these new talking boards. None of the men were spiritualists, really, but they were all of them keen businessmen and they’d identified a niche.
But they didn’t have the Ouija board yet—the Kennard talking board lacked a name. Contrary to popular belief, “Ouija” is not a combination of the French for “yes,” oui, and the German ja. Murch says, based on his research, it was Bond’s sister-in-law, Helen Peters (who was, Bond said, a “strong medium”), who supplied the now instantly recognizable handle. Sitting around the table, they asked the board what they should call it the name “Ouija” came through and, when they asked what that meant, the board replied, “Good luck.” Eerie and cryptic—but for the fact that Peters acknowledged that she was wearing a locket bearing the picture of a woman, the name “Ouija” above her head. That’s the story that emerged from the Ouija founders’ letters it’s very possible that the woman in the locket was famous author and popular women’s rights activist Ouida, whom Peters admired, and that “Ouija” was just a misreading of that.
According to Murch’s interviews with the descendants of the Ouija founders and the original Ouija patent file itself, which he’s seen, the story of the board’s patent request was true: Knowing that if they couldn’t prove that the board worked, they wouldn’t get their patent, Bond brought the indispensible Peters to the patent office in Washington with him when he filed his application. There, the chief patent officer demanded a demonstration—if the board could accurately spell out his name, which was supposed to be unknown to Bond and Peters, he’d allow the patent application to proceed. They all sat down, communed with the spirits, and the planchette faithfully spelled out the patent officer’s name. Whether or not it was mystical spirits or the fact that Bond, as a patent attorney, may have just known the man’s name, well, that’s unclear, Murch says. But on February 10, 1891, a white-faced and visibly shaken patent officer awarded Bond a patent for his new “toy or game.”
The first patent offers no explanation as to how the device works, just asserts that it does. That ambiguity and mystery was part of a more or less conscious marketing effort. “These were very shrewd businessmen,” notes Murch the less the Kennard company said about how the board worked, the more mysterious it seemed—and the more people wanted to buy it. “Ultimately, it was a money-maker. They didn’t care why people thought it worked.”
And it was a money-maker. By 1892, the Kennard Novelty Company went from one factory in Baltimore to two in Baltimore, two in New York, two in Chicago and one in London. And by 1893, Kennard and Bond were out, owing to some internal pressures and the old adage about money changing everything. By this time, William Fuld, who’d gotten in on the ground floor of the fledgling company as an employee and stockholder, was running the company. (Notably, Fuld is not and never claimed to be the inventor of the board, though even his obituary in The New York Times declared him to be also notably, Fuld died in 1927 after a freak fall from the roof of his new factory—a factory he said the Ouija board told him to build.) In 1898, with the blessing of Col. Bowie, the majority shareholder and one of only two remaining original investors, he licensed the exclusive rights to make the board. What followed were boom years for Fuld and frustration for some of the men who’d been in on the Ouija board from the beginning—public squabbling over who’d really invented it played out in the pages of the Baltimore Sun, while their rival boards launched and failed. In 1919, Bowie sold the remaining business interest in Ouija to Fuld, his protégé, for $1.
The board’s instant and now, more than 120 years later, prolonged success showed that it had tapped into a weird place in American culture. It was marketed as both mystical oracle and as family entertainment, fun with an element of other-worldly excitement. This meant that it wasn’t only spiritualists who bought the board in fact, the people who disliked the Ouija board the most tended to be spirit mediums, as they’d just found their job as spiritual middleman cut out. The Ouija board appealed to people from across a wide spectrum of ages, professions, and education—mostly, Murch claims, because the Ouija board offered a fun way for people to believe in something. “People want to believe. The need to believe that something else is out there is powerful,” he says. “This thing is one of those things that allows them to express that belief.”
It’s quite logical then the board would find its greatest popularity in uncertain times, when people hold fast to belief and look for answers from just about anywhere, especially cheap, DIY oracles. The 1910s and s, with the devastations of World War I and the manic years of the Jazz Age and prohibition, witnessed a surge in Ouija popularity. It was so normal that in May 1920, Norman Rockwell, illustrator of blissful 20th century domesticity, depicted a man and a woman, Ouija board on their knees, communing with the beyond on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. During the Great Depression, the Fuld Company opened new factories to meet demand for the boards over five months in 1944, a single New York department store sold 50,000 of them. In 1967, the year after Parker Brothers bought the game from the Fuld Company, 2 million boards were sold, outselling Monopoly that same year saw more American troops in Vietnam, the counter-culture Summer of Love in San Francisco, and race riots in Newark, Detroit, Minneapolis and Milwaukee.
Strange Ouija tales also made frequent, titillating appearances in American newspapers. In 1920, national wire services reported that would-be crime solvers were turning to their Ouija boards for clues in the mysterious murder of a New York City gambler, Joseph Burton Elwell, much to the frustration of the police. In 1921, The New York Times reported that a Chicago woman being sent to a psychiatric hospital tried to explain to doctors that she wasn’t suffering from mania, but that Ouija spirits had told her to leave her mother’s dead body in the living room for 15 days before burying her in the backyard. In 1930, newspaper readers thrilled to accounts of two women in Buffalo, New York, who’d murdered another woman, supposedly on the encouragement of Ouija board messages. In 1941, a 23-year-old gas station attendant from New Jersey told The New York Times that he joined the Army because the Ouija board told him to. In 1958, a Connecticut court decided not to honor the “Ouija board will” of Mrs. Helen Dow Peck, who left only $1,000 to two former servants and an insane $152,000 to Mr. John Gale Forbes—a lucky, but bodiless spirit who’d contacted her via the Ouija board.
Ouija boards even offered literary inspiration: In 1916, Mrs. Pearl Curran made headlines when she began writing poems and stories that she claimed were dictated, via Ouija board, by the spirit of a 17th century Englishwoman called Patience Worth. The following year, Curran’s friend, Emily Grant Hutchings, claimed that her book, Jap Herron, was communicated via Ouija board by the late Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Curran earned significant success, Hutchings less, but neither of them achieved the heights that Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill did: In 1982, his epic Ouija-inspired and dictated poem, The Changing Light at Sandover, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. (Merrill, for his part, publicly implied that the Ouija board acted more as a magnifier for his own poetic thoughts, rather than as hotline to the spirits. In 1979, after he wrote Mirabelle: Books of Number, another Ouija creation, he told The New York Review of Books, “If the spirits aren’t external, how astonishing the mediums become!”)
Ouija existed on the periphery of American culture, perennially popular, mysterious, interesting and usually, barring the few cases of supposed Ouija-inspired murders, non-threatening. That is, until 1973.
In that year, The Exorcist scared the pants off people in theaters, with all that pea soup and head-spinning and supposedly based on a true story business and the implication that 12-year-old Regan was possessed by a demon after playing with a Ouija board by herself changed how people saw the board. “It’s kind of like Psycho—no one was afraid of showers until that scene… It’s a clear line,” says Murch, explaining that before The Exorcist, film and TV depictions of the Ouija board were usually jokey, hokey, and silly—“I Love Lucy,” for example, featured a 1951 episode in which Lucy and Ethel host a séance using the Ouija board. “But for at least 10 years afterwards, it’s no joke… [The Exorcist] actually changed the fabric of pop culture.”
Almost overnight, Ouija became a tool of the devil and, for that reason, a tool of horror writers and moviemakers—it began popping up in scary movies, usually opening the door to evil spirits hell-bent on ripping apart co-eds. Outside of the theatre, the following years saw the Ouija board denounced by religious groups as Satan’s preferred method of communication in 2001 in Alamogordo, New Mexico, it was being burned on bonfires along with copies of Harry Potter and Disney’s Snow White. Christian religious groups still remain wary of the board, citing scripture denouncing communication with spirits through mediums—Catholic.com calls the Ouija board “far from harmless” and as recently as 2011, 700 Club host Pat Robertson declared that demons can reach us through the board. Even within the paranormal community, Ouija boards enjoyed a dodgy reputation—Murch says that when he first began speaking at paranormal conventions, he was told to leave his antique boards at home because they scared people too much. Parker Brothers and later, Hasbro, after they acquired Parker Brothers in 1991, still sold hundreds of thousands of them, but the reasons why people were buying them had changed significantly: Ouija boards were spooky rather than spiritual, with a distinct frisson of danger.
In recent years, Ouija is popular yet again, driven in part by economic uncertainty and the board’s usefulness as a plot device. The hugely popular Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 both featured a Ouija board it’s popped up in episodes of “Breaking Bad,” “Castle,” “Rizzoli & Isles” and multiple paranormal reality TV programs Hot Topic, mall favorite of Gothy teens, sells a set of Ouija board bra and underwear and for those wishing to commune with the beyond while on the go, there’s an app (or 20) for that. This year, Hasbro released a more “mystical” version of the game, replacing its old glow-in-the-dark version for purists, Hasbro also licensed the rights to make a “classic” version to another company. In 2012, rumors that Universal was in talks to make a film based on the game abounded, although Hasbro refused to comment on that or anything else for this story.
But the real question, the one everyone wants to know, is how do Ouija boards work?
Ouija boards are not, scientists say, powered by spirits or even demons. Disappointing but also potentially useful—because they’re powered by us, even when we protest that we’re not doing it, we swear. Ouija boards work on a principle known to those studying the mind for more than 160 years: the ideometer effect. In 1852, physician and physiologist William Benjamin Carpenter published a report for the Royal Institution of Great Britain, examining these automatic muscular movements that take place without the conscious will or volition of the individual (think crying in reaction to a sad film, for example). Almost immediately, other researchers saw applications of the ideometer effect in the popular spiritualist pastimes. In 1853, chemist and physicist Michael Faraday, intrigued by table-turning, conducted a series of experiments that proved to him (though not to most spiritualists) that the table’s motion was due to the ideomotor actions of the participants.
The effect is very convincing. As Dr. Chris French, professor of psychology and anomalistic psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, explains, “It can generate a very strong impression that the movement is being caused by some outside agency, but it’s not.” Other devices, such as dowsing rods, or more recently, the fake bomb detection kits that deceived scores of international governments and armed services, work on the same principle of non-conscious movement. “The thing about all these mechanisms we’re talking about, dowsing rods, Oujia boards, pendulums, these small tables, they’re all devices whereby a quite a small muscular movement can cause quite a large effect,” he says. Planchettes, in particular, are well-suited for their task—many used to be constructed of a lightweight wooden board and fitted with small casters to help them move more smoothly and freely now, they’re usually plastic and have felt feet, which also help it slide over the board easily.
“And with Ouija boards you’ve got the whole social context. It’s usually a group of people, and everyone has a slight influence,” French notes. With Ouija, not only does the individual give up some conscious control to participate—so it can’t be me, people think—but also, in a group, no one person can take credit for the planchette’s movements, making it seem like the answers must be coming from an otherworldly source. Moreover, in most situations, there is an expectation or suggestion that the board is somehow mystical or magical. “Once the idea has been implanted there, there’s almost a readiness to happen.”
But if Ouija boards can’t give us answers from beyond the Veil, what can they tell us? Quite a lot, actually.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Visual Cognition Lab think the board may be a good way to examine how the mind processes information on various levels. The idea that the mind has multiple levels of information processing is by no means a new one, although exactly what to call those levels remains up for debate: Conscious, unconscious, subconscious, pre-conscious, zombie mind are all terms that have been or are currently used, and all have their supporters and detractors. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll refer to “conscious” as those thoughts you’re basically aware that you’re having (“I’m reading this fascinating article.”) and “non-conscious” as the automatic pilot-type thoughts (blink, blink).
Two years ago, Dr. Ron Rensink, professor of psychology and computer science, psychology postdoctoral researcher Hélène Gauchou, and Dr. Sidney Fels, professor of electrical and computer engineering, began looking at exactly what happens when people sit down to use a Ouija board. Fels says that they got the idea after he hosted a Halloween party with a fortune-telling theme and found himself explaining to several foreign students, who had never really seen it before, how the Ouija works.
“They kept asking where to put the batteries,” Fels laughed. After offering up a more Halloween-friendly, mystical explanation—leaving out the ideomotor effect—he left the students to play with the board on their own. When he came back, hours later, they were still at it, although by now much more freaked out. A few days post-hangover later, Fels said, he, Rensink, and a few others began talking about what is actually going on with the Ouija. The team thought the board could offer a really unique way to examine non-conscious knowledge, to determine whether ideomotor action could also express what the non-conscious knows.
“It was one of things that we thought it probably won’t work, but if it did work, it’d be really freaking cool,” said Rensink.
Their initial experiments involved a Ouija-playing robot: Participants were told that they were playing with a person in another room via teleconferencing the robot, they were told, mimicked the movements of the other person. In actuality, the robot’s movements simply amplified the participants’ motions and the person in the other room was just a ruse, a way to get the participant to think they weren’t in control. Participants were asked a series of yes or no, fact-based questions (“Is Buenos Aires the capital of Brazil? Were the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney?”) and expected to use the Ouija board to answer.
What the team found surprised them: When participants were asked, verbally, to guess the answers to the best of their ability, they were right only around 50 percent of the time, a typical result for guessing. But when they answered using the board, believing that the answers were coming from someplace else, they answered correctly upwards of 65 percent of the time. “It was so dramatic how much better they did on these questions than if they answered to the best of their ability that we were like, ‘This is just weird, how could they be that much better?’” recalled Fels. “It was so dramatic we couldn’t believe it.” The implication was, Fels explained, that one’s non-conscious was a lot smarter than anyone knew.
The robot, unfortunately, proved too delicate for further experiments, but the researchers were sufficiently intrigued to pursue further Ouija research. They divined another experiment: This time, rather than a robot, the participant actually played with a real human. At some point, the participant was blindfolded—and the other player, really a confederate, quietly took their hands off the planchette. This meant that the participant believed he or she wasn’t alone, enabling the kind of automatic pilot state the researchers were looking for, but still ensuring that the answers could only come from the participant.
It worked. Rensink says, “Some people were complaining about how the other person was moving the planchette around. That was a good sign that we really got this kind of condition that people were convinced that somebody else was there.” Their results replicated the findings of the experiment with the robot, that people knew more when they didn’t think they were controlling the answers (50 percent accuracy for vocal responses to 65 percent for Ouija responses). They reported their findings in February 2012 issue of Consciousness and Cognition.
“You do much better with the Ouija on questions that you really don’t think you know, but actually something inside you does know and the Ouija can help you answer above chance,” says Fels.
UBC’s experiments show that the Ouija could be a very useful tool in rigorously investigating non-conscious thought processes. “Now that we have some hypotheses in terms of what’s going on here, accessing knowledge and cognitive abilities that you don’t have conscious awareness of, [the Ouija board] would be an instrument to actually get at that,” Fels explains. “Now we can start using it to ask other types of questions.”
Those types of questions include how much and what the non-conscious mind knows, how fast it can learn, how it remembers, even how it amuses itself, if it does. This opens up even more avenues of exploration—for example, if there are two or more systems of information processes, which system is more impacted by neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s? If it impacted the non-conscious earlier, Rensink hypothesizes, indications of the illness could show up in Ouija manipulation, possibly even before being detected in conscious thought.
For the moment, the researchers are working on locking down their findings in a second study and firming up protocol around using the Ouija as a tool. However, they’re running up against a problem—funding. “The classic funding agencies don’t want to be associated with this, it seems a bit too out there,” said Rensink. All the work they’ve done to date has been volunteer, with Rensink himself paying for some of the experiment’s costs. To get around this issue, they’re looking to crowd-funding to make up the gap.
Even if they don’t succeed, the UBC team has managed to make good on one of the claims of the early Ouija advertisements: The board does offer a link between the known and the unknown. Just not the unknown that everyone wanted to believe it was.
Before 1900 Edit
The meaning of the English term "natural history" (a calque of the Latin historia naturalis) has narrowed progressively with time, while, by contrast, the meaning of the related term "nature" has widened (see also History below).
In antiquity, "natural history" covered essentially anything connected with nature, or used materials drawn from nature, such as Pliny the Elder's encyclopedia of this title, published circa 77 to 79 AD, which covers astronomy, geography, humans and their technology, medicine, and superstition, as well as animals and plants.
Medieval European academics considered knowledge to have two main divisions: the humanities (primarily what is now known as classics) and divinity, with science studied largely through texts rather than observation or experiment. The study of nature revived in the Renaissance, and quickly became a third branch of academic knowledge, itself divided into descriptive natural history and natural philosophy, the analytical study of nature. In modern terms, natural philosophy roughly corresponded to modern physics and chemistry, while natural history included the biological and geological sciences. The two were strongly associated. During the heyday of the gentleman scientists, many people contributed to both fields, and early papers in both were commonly read at professional science society meetings such as the Royal Society and the French Academy of Sciences—both founded during the 17th century.
Natural history had been encouraged by practical motives, such as Linnaeus' aspiration to improve the economic condition of Sweden.  Similarly, the Industrial Revolution prompted the development of geology to help find useful mineral deposits. 
Since 1900 Edit
Modern definitions of natural history come from a variety of fields and sources, and many of the modern definitions emphasize a particular aspect of the field, creating a plurality of definitions with a number of common themes among them. For example, while natural history is most often defined as a type of observation and a subject of study, it can also be defined as a body of knowledge, and as a craft or a practice, in which the emphasis is placed more on the observer than on the observed. 
Definitions from biologists often focus on the scientific study of individual organisms in their environment, as seen in this definition by Marston Bates: "Natural history is the study of animals and Plants—of organisms. . I like to think, then, of natural history as the study of life at the level of the individual—of what plants and animals do, how they react to each other and their environment, how they are organized into larger groupings like populations and communities"  and this more recent definition by D.S. Wilcove and T. Eisner: "The close observation of organisms—their origins, their evolution, their behavior, and their relationships with other species". 
This focus on organisms in their environment is also echoed by H.W. Greene and J.B. Losos: "Natural history focuses on where organisms are and what they do in their environment, including interactions with other organisms. It encompasses changes in internal states insofar as they pertain to what organisms do". 
Some definitions go further, focusing on direct observation of organisms in their environments, both past and present, such as this one by G.A. Bartholomew: "A student of natural history, or a naturalist, studies the world by observing plants and animals directly. Because organisms are functionally inseparable from the environment in which they live and because their structure and function cannot be adequately interpreted without knowing some of their evolutionary history, the study of natural history embraces the study of fossils as well as physiographic and other aspects of the physical environment". 
A common thread in many definitions of natural history is the inclusion of a descriptive component, as seen in a recent definition by H.W. Greene: "Descriptive ecology and ethology".  Several authors have argued for a more expansive view of natural history, including S. Herman, who defines the field as "the scientific study of plants and animals in their natural environments. It is concerned with levels of organization from the individual organism to the ecosystem, and stresses identification, life history, distribution, abundance, and inter-relationships.
It often and appropriately includes an esthetic component",  and T. Fleischner, who defines the field even more broadly, as "A practice of intentional, focused attentiveness and receptivity to the more-than-human world, guided by honesty and accuracy".  These definitions explicitly include the arts in the field of natural history, and are aligned with the broad definition outlined by B. Lopez, who defines the field as the "Patient interrogation of a landscape" while referring to the natural history knowledge of the Eskimo (Inuit). 
A slightly different framework for natural history, covering a similar range of themes, is also implied in the scope of work encompassed by many leading natural history museums, which often include elements of anthropology, geology, paleontology, and astronomy along with botany and zoology,   or include both cultural and natural components of the world. 
The plurality of definitions for this field has been recognized as both a weakness and a strength, and a range of definitions has recently been offered by practitioners in a recent collection of views on natural history. 
Ancient times Edit
Natural history begins with Aristotle and other ancient philosophers who analyzed the diversity of the natural world. Natural history was understood by Pliny the Elder to cover anything that could be found in the world, including living things, geology, astronomy, technology, art, and humanity. 
De Materia Medica was written between 50 and 70 AD by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Roman physician of Greek origin. It was widely read for more than 1,500 years until supplanted in the Renaissance, making it one of the longest-lasting of all natural history books.
From the ancient Greeks until the work of Carl Linnaeus and other 18th-century naturalists, a major concept of natural history was the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being, an arrangement of minerals, vegetables, more primitive forms of animals, and more complex life forms on a linear scale of supposedly increasing perfection, culminating in our species. 
Natural history was basically static through the Middle Ages in Europe—although in the Arabic and Oriental world, it proceeded at a much brisker pace. From the 13th century, the work of Aristotle was adapted rather rigidly into Christian philosophy, particularly by Thomas Aquinas, forming the basis for natural theology. During the Renaissance, scholars (herbalists and humanists, particularly) returned to direct observation of plants and animals for natural history, and many began to accumulate large collections of exotic specimens and unusual monsters. Leonhart Fuchs was one of the three founding fathers of botany, along with Otto Brunfels and Hieronymus Bock. Other important contributors to the field were Valerius Cordus, Konrad Gesner (Historiae animalium), Frederik Ruysch, and Gaspard Bauhin.  The rapid increase in the number of known organisms prompted many attempts at classifying and organizing species into taxonomic groups, culminating in the system of the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. 
The British historian of Chinese science Joseph Needham calls Li Shizhen "the 'uncrowned king' of Chinese naturalists", and his Bencao gangmu "undoubtedly the greatest scientific achievement of the Ming". His works translated to many languages direct or influence many scholars and researchers. [ citation needed ]
Birth of scientific biology Edit
A significant contribution to English natural history was made by parson-naturalists such as Gilbert White, William Kirby, John George Wood, and John Ray, who wrote about plants, animals, and other aspects of nature. Many of these men wrote about nature to make the natural theology argument for the existence or goodness of God.  Since early modern times, however, a great number of women made contributions to natural history, particularly in the field of botany, be it as authors, collectors, or illustrators. 
In modern Europe, professional disciplines such as botany, geology, mycology, palaeontology, physiology, and zoology were formed. Natural history, formerly the main subject taught by college science professors, was increasingly scorned by scientists of a more specialized manner and relegated to an "amateur" activity, rather than a part of science proper. In Victorian Scotland, the study of natural history was believed to contribute to good mental health.  Particularly in Britain and the United States, this grew into specialist hobbies such as the study of birds, butterflies, seashells (malacology/conchology), beetles, and wildflowers meanwhile, scientists tried to define a unified discipline of biology (though with only partial success, at least until the modern evolutionary synthesis). Still, the traditions of natural history continue to play a part in the study of biology, especially ecology (the study of natural systems involving living organisms and the inorganic components of the Earth's biosphere that support them), ethology (the scientific study of animal behavior), and evolutionary biology (the study of the relationships between life forms over very long periods of time), and re-emerges today as integrative organismal biology.
Amateur collectors and natural history entrepreneurs played an important role in building the world's large natural history collections, such as the Natural History Museum, London, and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
Three of the greatest English naturalists of the 19th century, Henry Walter Bates, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace—who all knew each other—each made natural history travels that took years, collected thousands of specimens, many of them new to science, and by their writings both advanced knowledge of "remote" parts of the world—the Amazon basin, the Galápagos Islands, and the Malay archipelago, among others—and in so doing helped to transform biology from a descriptive to a theory-based science.
The understanding of "Nature" as "an organism and not as a mechanism" can be traced to the writings of Alexander von Humboldt (Prussia, 1769–1859). Humboldt's copious writings and research were seminal influences for Charles Darwin, Simón Bolívar, Henry David Thoreau, Ernst Haeckel, and John Muir. 
Natural history museums, which evolved from cabinets of curiosities, played an important role in the emergence of professional biological disciplines and research programs. Particularly back in the 19th century, scientists began to use their natural history collections as teaching tools for advanced students and the basis for their own morphological research.
The term "natural history" alone, or sometimes together with archaeology, forms the name of many national, regional, and local natural history societies that maintain records for animals (including birds (ornithology), insects (entomology) and mammals (mammalogy)), fungi (mycology), plants (botany), and other organisms. They may also have geological and microscopical sections.
Examples of these societies in Britain include the Natural History Society of Northumbria founded in 1829, London Natural History Society (1858), Birmingham Natural History Society (1859), British Entomological and Natural History Society founded in 1872, Glasgow Natural History Society, Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society established in 1880, Whitby Naturalists' Club founded in 1913,  Scarborough Field Naturalists' Society and the Sorby Natural History Society, Sheffield, founded in 1918.  The growth of natural history societies was also spurred due to the growth of British colonies in tropical regions with numerous new species to be discovered. Many civil servants took an interest in their new surroundings, sending specimens back to museums in the Britain. (See also: Indian natural history)