In 1958, Bruno Balke, a former German Luftwaffe doctor working for the United States Air Force (USAF), led a team of airmen up Colorado’s Mount Evans. Could acclimatization to the thin mountain air boost the oxygen efficiency of future astronauts living in artificial low-pressure spacecraft environments? To judge their improvement, Balke, an expert in the nascent field of space medicine, compared their performance not with military test-pilots, but with high-altitude Indigenous people he had studied in the Peruvian Andes. This article expands discussions of race in space history beyond Black scientists, mathematicians, and pilots in the Civil Rights era to this earlier case of the permanent residents of Morococha, Peru, who participated in efforts to define an ideal spacefaring body. More than recovering the story of a nearly forgotten group of astronaut-adjacent test-subjects, this article shows how racial discrimination in space medicine functioned by inclusion. Balke studied and even celebrated the bodies of Morocochans, but never considered them potential astronauts. This article begins with Balke’s participation in the 1938 Nazi-funded expedition to summit Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas, and his follow-on work acclimatizing Luftwaffe pilots during World War Two. Then it focuses on his USAF work in the 1950s studying miners living and working in Morococha, Peru, and his attempt to replicate their altitude tolerance in American airmen on Mount Evans. Recovering Balke’s work places the high-altitude Indigenous person and the mountaineer alongside the familiar figure of the pilot in the genealogy of the early American astronaut.
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Research Article| June 01 2021
Andean Man & the Astronaut: Race and the 1958 Mount Evans Acclimatization Experiment
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (2021) 51 (3): 285–329.
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Jordan Bimm; Andean Man & the Astronaut: Race and the 1958 Mount Evans Acclimatization Experiment. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 June 2021; 51 (3): 285–329. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2021.51.3.285
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