Posts Tagged ‘G-forces’
“Iron Maiden” Used to Set Standing World Record Comes Home
An important research tool once used to test theories about submerging the human body in water to lessen the effects of G forces encountered during space flight is returning to Bucks County after a 15 year absence.
Flashback… On December 7, 1958 Bucks County native and research scientist R. Flanagan Gray climbed inside a full body enclosure that looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel. Resembling a cast aluminum deep sea diving suit, Gray’s “Iron Maiden” was unique in many ways. One was that it was designed to keep water in. Another was that it was designed to be attached to largest and most powerful human centrifuge the world has ever seen.
After donning a special mask and goggles designed for high-g’s Gray submerged himself in the water that filled the tank and inserted a breathing tube in his mouth. He took a deep breath and held it. With a nod of his head, he signaled that he was ready for his research associates to take the world renowned Johnsville Centrifuge to it’s maximum. The ride eventually took Gray to 31.25 Gs sustained for approximately 5 seconds. By the time the run was over, Gray was exhuasted, quite worse for wear and a world record holder. Since then, noone has attempted to match his extraordinary feat.
Located, at the Johnsville Naval Air Development Center (NADC) in Warminster, PA, the centrifuge, known in the day as Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory (AMAL) was one of 31 laboratories on the base. When NADC was shuttered in 1996, the Iron Maiden was moved to the Naval Air base at Patuxent River, MD and placed on display at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum. The important artifact is now on loan to the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum for the next two years. Following the arrival of the Mercury 7 Gondola this past May, the Iron Maiden is the second major artifact of historical importance to be brought home to Bucks County by the museum.
The Iron Maiden will be on public display at the Bucks County Visitors Center at 3207 Street Road, Bensalem from August 31 through September 23.
“We are excited to bring this important piece of history back to Bucks County,” said Michael Maguire, President of the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum. “The centrifuge was one of the many labs at NADC where pioneering technology that touches our everyday life was developed. Once you see the Iron Maiden and imagine being sealed inside of it, you can’t help but be amazed by the dedication of all the scientists and engineers at NADC. We are thrilled that the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum is loaning this artifact to us. ”
Below is the text of an editorial that appeared in the Daily Intelligencer on Monday, May 9, 2011.
History made here
America’s space program has roots in Warminster
IT WAS ALL so new then, so unfamiliar, so much like something out of Capt. Video: On May 5, 1961 – 50 years ago – astronaut Alan B. Shepard, one of the original seven U.S. astronauts, became the first American in outer space.
The Russians had beaten us to manned flight – Yuri Gagarin did it in April of that year – just as they had shocked the United States and the world years earlier with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.
By comparison, Gagarin’s ride – a 108-minute orbital trip – made Shepard’s 15-minute suborbital journey seem like a walk across the street.
Nevertheless, Shepard was hailed as a national hero with parades in several cities. President John F. Kennedy awarded him a medal. More importantly, Shepard’s “foot in the space door” launched America’s manned space program, which eventually overtook the Soviet Union’s and culminated with the first moon landing, Apollo 11, in July 1969. Shepard himself would walk on the moon in 1971 as the commander of Apollo 14.
Shepard retired from NASA in 1974 and died of leukemia on July 21, 1998, 21 years to the day after the first moon walk. Though he’ll never be forgotten as America’s first space pioneer, he’s back in the news for a couple of reasons.
Last week, the U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class stamp in Shepard’s honor.
And in an event much closer to home, the original centrifuge gondola that Shepard trained in during Project Mercury was returned to Warminster Township, where the former Johnsville Naval Air Development Center once was home to the world’s largest human centrifuge. The arrival of the gondola on May 5 coincided with the 50th anniversary of Shepard’s first flight.
Many other astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs came to the NADC to ride the gondola and experience the effects of high G-forces that they would later be subjected to during launches.
After its days of spinning astronauts were over, the gondola became part of the collection at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington. But its place at the Smithsonian for well over four decades – in an outside storage yard, away from public view – hardly did proper justice to such a key contributor to the U.S. space program.
According to the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum website, the return of the gondola to its home in Warminster is part of the Save Our History campaign sponsored by The History Channel.
Eventually, the gondola will be displayed at the centrifuge building.
That our early astronauts prepared for their journeys right in our own backyard is not a particularly well-known chapter in the story of America’s space program. The centrifuge gondola’s homecoming is a good reason to learn about the role Bucks County played in the nation’s early exploration of the final frontier.