Hubertus Strughold-“Father of Space Medicine”,but at what cost?

Hubertus Strughold

Every year since 1963, the Space Medicine Association has given out the Hubertus Strughold Award to a top scientist or clinician for outstanding work in aviation medicine.

Dr. Hubertus Strughold (1898-1986) is known as the “Father of Space Medicine”. He first coined the term “space medicine” in 1948 and was the first and only Professor of Space Medicine at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. He was a co-founder of the Space Medicine Branch of the Aerospace Medical Association in 1950. In 1963, the Space Medicine Branch initiated the “Hubertus Strughold Award”, which is given each year for the greatest achievement in space medicine

Dr. Hubertus Strughold MD, Ph.D (June 15, 1898 – September 25, 1986) was a German-born physiologist and prominent medical researcher. Beginning in 1935 he served as chief of Aeromedical Research for the German Luftwaffe, holding this position throughout World War II. In 1947 he was brought to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip and held a series of high-ranking medical positions in both the US Air Force and NASA.

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For his role in pioneering the study of the physical and psychological effects of manned spaceflight he became known as “The Father of Space Medicine”.Following his death, Strughold’s activities under the Nazis came under greater scrutiny and allegations surrounding his involvement in Nazi-era human experimentation greatly diminished his reputation.

In April 1935 the government of Nazi Germany appointed Strughold to serve as the director of the Berlin-based Research Institute for Aviation Medicine, a medical think tank that operated under the auspices of Hermann Göring’s Ministry of Aviation.

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Under Strughold’s leadership the Institute grew to become Germany’s foremost aeromedical research establishment, pioneering the study of the medical effects of high-altitude and supersonic speed flight along with establishing the altitude chamber concept of “time of useful consciousness”. Though Strughold was ostensibly a civilian researcher, the majority of the studies and projects his Institute undertook were commissioned and financed by the German armed forces (principally the Luftwaffe) as part of the ongoing German re-armament. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Strughold’s organization was absorbed into the Luftwaffe itself as part of its Medical Service. It was renamed the Air Force Institute for Aviation Medicine, and placed under the command of Luftwaffe Surgeon-General(Generaloberstabsarzt) Erich Hippke.

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Strughold himself was also commissioned as an officer in the German air force, eventually rising to the rank of Colonel (Oberst).

In October 1942, Strughold and Hippke attended a medical conference in Nuremberg at which SS physician Sigmund Rascher delivered a presentation outlining various medical experiments he had conducted, in conjunction with the Luftwaffe, in which prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were used as human test subjects.

These experiments included physiological tests during which camp inmates were immersed in freezing water, placed in air pressure chambers and made to endure invasive surgical procedures without anesthetic. Many of the inmates forced to participate died as a result. Various Luftwaffe physicians had participated in the experiments and several of them had close ties to Strughold, both through the Institute for Aviation Medicine and the Luftwaffe Medical Service.

Following the German defeat in May, 1945, Strughold claimed to Allied authorities that, despite his influential position within the Luftwaffe Medical Service and his attendance at the October 1942 medical conference, he had no knowledge of the atrocities committed at Dachau. He was never subsequently charged with any wrongdoing by the Allies. However, a 1946 memorandum produced by the staff of the Nuremberg Trials listed Strughold as one of thirteen “persons, firms or individuals implicated” in the war crimes committed at Dachau. Also, several of the former Luftwaffe physicians associated with Strughold and the Institute for Aviation Medicine (among them Strughold’s former research assistant Hermann Becker-Freyseng) were convicted of crimes against humanity in connection with the Dachau experiments at the 1947 Nuremberg Doctor’s Trial.

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During these proceedings, Strughold contributed several affidavits for the defense on behalf of his accused colleagues.

In October 1945 Strughold returned to academia, becoming director of the Physiological Institute at Heidelberg University. He also began working on behalf of the US Army Air Force, becoming chief scientist of its Aeromedical Center, located on the campus of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research. In this capacity Strughold edited German Aviation Medicine in World War II, a book-length summary of the knowledge gained by German aviation researchers during the war.

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In 1947 Strughold was brought to the United States, along with many other highly valuable German scientists, as part of Operation Paperclip. With another former Luftwaffe physician, Richard Lindenberg, Strughold was assigned to the US Air Force School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field near San Antonio, Texas.

It was while at Randolph Field that Strughold began conducting some of the first research into the potential medical challenges posed by space travel, in conjunction with fellow “Paperclip Scientist” Dr. Heinz Haber.Strughold coined the term “space medicine” to describe this area of study in 1948. The following year he was appointed as the first and only Professor of Space Medicine at the US Air Force’s newly established School of Aviation Medicine (SAM), one of the first institutions dedicated to conducting research on the so-called “human factors” associated with manned spaceflight.

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Under Strughold, the School of Aviation Medicine conducted pioneering studies on issues such as atmospheric control, the physical effects of weightlessness and the disruption of normal time cycles.In 1951 Strughold revolutionized existing notions concerning spaceflight when he co-authored the influential research paper Where Does Space Begin? in which he proposed that space was present in small gradations that grew as altitude levels increased, rather than existing in remote regions of the atmosphere. Between 1952 and 1954 he would oversee the building of the space cabin simulator, a sealed chamber in which human test subjects were placed for extended periods of time in order to view the potential physical and psychological effects of extra-atmospheric flight. Strughold obtained US citizenship in 1956 and was named chief scientist of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Aerospace Medical Division in 1962. While at NASA, Strughold played a central role in designing the pressure suit and onboard life support systems used by both the Gemini and Apollo astronauts. He also directed the specialized training of the flight surgeons and medical staff of the Apollo program in advance of the planned mission to the Moon. Strughold retired from his position at NASA in 1968.

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During his work on behalf of the Air Force and NASA, Strughold was the subject of three separate US government investigations into his suspected involvement in war crimes committed under the Nazis. A 1958 investigation by the Justice Department fully exonerated Strughold, while a second inquiry launched by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1974 was later abandoned due to lack of evidence. In 1983 the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations reopened his case but withdrew from the effort when Strughold died in September, 1986. Following his death, Strughold’s alleged connection to the Dachau experiments became more widely known following the release of US Army Intelligence documents from 1945 that listed him among those being sought as war criminals by US authorities.

These revelations did significant damage to Strughold’s reputation and resulted in the revocation of various honors that had been bestowed upon him over the course of his career. In 1993, at the request of the World Jewish Congress, his portrait was removed from a mural of prominent physicians displayed at Ohio State University. Following similar protests by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Air Force decided in 1995 to rename the Hubertus Strughold Aeromedical Library at Brooks Air Force Base, which had been named in Strughold’s honor in 1977. His portrait, however, still hangs there. Further action by the ADL also led to Strughold’s removal from the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico in May 2006.

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Further questions about Strughold’s activities during World War II emerged in 2004 following an investigation conducted by the Historical Committee of the German Society of Air and Space Medicine. The inquiry uncovered evidence of oxygen deprivation experiments carried out by Strughold’s Institute for Aviation Medicine in 1943. According to these findings six epileptic children, between the ages of 11 and 13, were taken from the Nazi’s Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre to Strughold’s Berlin laboratory where they were placed in vacuum chambers to induce epileptic seizures in an effort to simulate the effects of high-altitude sicknesses, such as hypoxia.

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While, unlike the Dachau experiments, all the test subjects survived the research process, this revelation led the Society of Air and Space Medicine to abolish a major award bearing Strughold’s name. A similar campaign by American scholars prompted the US branch of the Aerospace Medical Association to announce in 2012 that it would also consider rechristening a similar award, also named in Strughold’s honor, which it had been bestowing since 1963. The move was met with opposition from defenders of Strughold, citing his massive contributions to the American space program and the lack of any formal proof of his direct involvement in war crimes

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Nazis -Nasa and Dachau.

It is a well known fact that the US government welcomed a great number of Nazi scientists to the US where they could continue their scientific research and experiments.

One of the greatest benefactors was NASA, without the knowledge of the Nazi scientists who worked on the V1 and V2 programs the NASA space program would never have been possible.

In fact the idea of the International Space Station was based on the Nazi plans for a ‘death ray’. The Nazis had secretly been working on an orbital space station based on the ideas of Herman Oberth. Their plan was to install some sort of reflective shield to harvest the sun rays and convert them in a ‘death ray’ or ‘Sun Gun’. The death ray was never developed of course, but part of the plans for the orbital space station were used.

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The Dachau connection though I very disturbing and wasn’t something I was awar of until recently.NASA did use the research of the experiments done by Sigmund Rascher to develop their space suits and to prepare their astronauts.

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Sigmund Rascher (12 February 1909 – 26 April 1945) was a German SS doctor. His deadly experiments on humans, which were carried out in the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, were judged inhumane and criminal during the Nuremberg Trials.

In 1939 Rascher , joined the SS, and was conscripted into the Luftwaffe. A relationship and eventually marriage to former singer Karoline “Nini” Diehl gained him direct access to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Rascher’s connection with Himmler gave him immense influence, even over his superiors. Diehl may have been a former lover of Himmler; she frequently corresponded with him and interceded with him on her husband’s behalf.

A week after first meeting Himmler, Rascher presented a paper, “Report on the Development and Solution to Some of the Reichsfuehrer’s Assigned Tasks During a Discussion Held on April 24, 1939”.Rascher became involved in testing a plant extract as a cancer treatment. Kurt Blome, deputy of the Reich Health Leader (Reichsgesundheitsführer) and Plenipotentiary for Cancer Research in the Reich Research Council, favoured testing the extract on rodents, but Rascher insisted on using human test subjects. Himmler took Rascher’s side and a Human Cancer Testing Station was established at Dachau. Blome worked on the project.

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Rascher suggested in early 1941, while a captain in the Luftwaffe’s Medical Service, that high-altitude/low-pressure experiments be carried out on human beings.While taking a course in aviation medicine at Munich, he wrote Himmler a letter in which he said that his course included research into high-altitude flight and it was regretted that no tests with humans had been possible as such experiments were highly dangerous and nobody volunteered for them. Rascher asked Himmler to place human subjects at his disposal, stating quite frankly that the experiments might prove fatal, but that previous tests made with monkeys had been unsatisfactory. The letter was answered by Rudolf Brandt, Himmler’s adjutant, who informed Rascher that prisoners would be made available.

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Rascher subsequently wrote back to Brandt, asking for permission to carry out his experiments at Dachau, and plans for the experiments were developed at a conference in early 1942 attended by Rascher and members of the Luftwaffe Medical Service. The experiments were carried out in the spring and summer of the same year, using a portable pressure chamber supplied by the Luftwaffe. The victims were locked in the chamber, the interior pressure of which was then lowered to a level corresponding to very high altitudes. The pressure could be very quickly altered, allowing Rascher to simulate the conditions which would be experienced by a pilot freefalling from altitude without oxygen.

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After viewing a report of one of the fatal experiments, Himmler remarked that if a subject should survive such treatment, he should be “pardoned” to life imprisonment. Rascher replied to Himmler that the victims had to date been merely Poles and Russians, and that he believed they should be given no amnesty of any sort.

Rascher also conducted so-called “freezing experiments” on behalf of the Luftwaffe, in which 300 test subjects were used against their will. These were also conducted at Dachau after the high-altitude experiments had concluded. The purpose was to determine the best way of warming German pilots who had been forced down in the North Sea and suffered hypothermia.

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Rascher’s victims were forced to remain outdoors naked in freezing weather for up to 14 hours, or kept in a tank of icewater for three hours, their pulse and internal temperature measured through a series of electrodes. Warming of the victims was then attempted by different methods, most usually and successfully by immersion in hot water.

General Dr. Erich Hippke, chief of the Luftwaffe medical service, was the actual source of the idea for the so-called “freezing experiments” which were undertaken on behalf of the Luftwaffe and conducted at Dachau concentration camp by Sigmund Rascher.

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Himmler attended some of the experiments, and told Rascher he should go the North Sea and find out how the ordinary people there warmed victims of extreme cold. Himmler reportedly said he thought “that a fisher woman could well take her half-frozen husband into her bed and revive him in that manner” and added that everyone believed “animal warmth” had a different effect than artificial warmth. Four Romani women were sent from Ravensbrück concentration camp and warming was attempted by placing the hypothermic victim between two naked women.

A medical conference was held in Nuremberg in October 1942, at which the results of the experiments were presented under the headings “Prevention and Treatment of Freezing”, and “Warming Up After Freezing to the Danger Point”.

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Rascher, who had by now been transferred to the Waffen-SS, was eager to obtain the academic credentials necessary for a high-level university position. A habilitation which was to be based on his research failed, however, at Munich, Marburg, and Frankfurt, due to the formal requirement that results be made available for public scrutiny. US investigators later concluded that Rascher had been merely a convenient front for Luftwaffe chief surgeon Erich Hippke, who had been the true source of the ideas for Rascher’s experiments.

Similar experiments were conducted from July to September 1944, as the Ahnenerbe (an institute in Nazi Germany purposed to research the archaeological and cultural history of the Aryan race)provided space and materials to doctors at Dachau to undertake “seawater experiments”, chiefly through Wolfram Sievers. Sievers is known to have visited Dachau on 20 July 1944, to speak with Kurt Plötner and the non-Ahnenerbe Wilhelm Beiglboeck, who ultimately carried out the experiments.

While at Dachau, Rascher developed the standard cyanide capsules, which could be easily bitten through, either deliberately or accidentally.

Rascher experimented with the effects of Polygal, a substance made from beet and apple pectin, which aided blood clotting. He predicted that the preventive use of Polygal tablets would reduce bleeding from gunshot wounds sustained during combat or during surgery. Subjects were given a Polygal tablet, and shot through the neck or chest, or their limbs amputated without anaesthesia. Rascher published an article on his experience of using Polygal, without detailing the nature of the human trials and also set up a company to manufacture the substance, staffed by prisoners.

Rascher did not go to the US after the war. He was executed on the 26th of April 1945 3 days  before Dachau was liberated. He wasn’t executed by the allies or the prisoners but by the Nazi’s and not because of his evil experiments.

In an attempt to please Himmler by demonstrating that population growth could be accelerated by extending the childbearing age, Rascher publicized the fact that his wife had given birth to three children even after becoming 48 years of age, and Himmler used a photograph of Rascher’s family as propaganda material.

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However, during her fourth “pregnancy”, Mrs. Rascher was arrested for trying to kidnap a baby and an investigation revealed that her other three children had been either bought or kidnapped. Himmler felt betrayed by this conduct, and Rascher was arrested in April 1944. As well as complicity in the kidnappings of the three infants, Rascher was also accused of financial irregularities, the murder of his former lab assistant, and scientific fraud. Both Rascher and his wife were hastily condemned without trial to the concentration camps.Rascher was imprisoned at Buchenwald following his arrest in 1944 until the camp’s evacuation in April 1945. He and other prisoners were then taken to Dachau where Rascher was executed by firing squad on 26 April 1945; just three days before the camp was liberated by American troops.

Although he had been executed before the American troops liberated Dachau, they did get hold of the notes and the research of experiments, which later became property of NASA.

Based on Rascher’s “Research” NASA developed their space suits.

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