The United States Air Force set up the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories to determine what would happen to our astronauts before we launched them into space. A brief documentary from the dawn of the Space Age is a fascinating time capsule of early research, accomplishments, and fears.
The documentary covering the then-cutting-edge bioastronautics research is hypnotizing. In just under 14 minutes, the narrator calmly covers launching people with an F-104 and F-106 ejector seats; disorienting cats and birds with zero-gravity flights in a C-131 airplane; leaving a test subject in body-temperature water for 24 hours to see what it does to their tolerance for acceleration or heat, and their ability to complete complex co-ordination tasks; and finally dropping, shaking, and tilting test subjects in a variety of rigs to see what will happen.
[Editor’s note: This video appears to have been deleted.]
The full video spans 13.5 minutes; it’s just as amazing as it sounds. The water tank test is almost an early version of a sensory deprivation tank, dunking the subject in body-temperature water for 24 hours. The drop-rigs are based on the Mercury capsules, ensuring that future-astronauts can plausibly survive the rough landings without being splattered on impact. And through it all, that classic era-narrator maintains a calm, occasionally proud demeanor, never once busting out in laughter or shock at the experiments.
By request, Airboyd also released a clip of just the disoriented pigeons, followed by the same clip in slow-motion for extra disoriented-flying action. It’s much more bite-sized, taking up less than a minute of your day.
Pigeons flying in zero gravity are understandably confused to be woken up and flung around, but they can still fly. And unlike the weightless-kitten-clip, no one casually kicks them into the ceiling. (Note: the cat is foot-nudged more than outright-kicked, but I’m pretty sure that is the moment feline-retaliation becomes inevitable.)