Fifty years ago I stayed up late with my grandfather to watch the Apollo 11 astronauts land on the moon. We sat riveted, watching grainy images on a tiny black and white television set, marveling at how far technology had advanced. In the 1960s, my father was an aerospace physiologist at the School of Aerospace Medicine (SAM) in San Antonio, Texas. Even as a little girl, I felt the sense of urgency that drove men like him to break survival records in the centrifuge and the rocket chair. But there was a nagging problem: what were the astronauts going to eat? There was almost no storage space and frankly, the space toilet had not yet been invented so research focused on elemental, low residue diets.
Dad was among the volunteers who (in addition to riding the rocket chair and pulling 11 G’s in a centrifuge) tried out every one of the experimental space diets. I remember he went weeks taking nothing by mouth except a reconstituted white powder, uncomplainingly sitting at the dinner table (we did that in the 1960’s) while my adorable Mom served everyone else a home-cooked meal.
Thanks to the tireless work of my Dad and many others like him, the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon in 1969. Not long after, Dad went to visit his brother, who was dying of throat cancer. Uncle Earl was being fed a white liquid via nasogastric tube, an enteral feeding solution developed thanks to advances in nutrition made during the space race.
Read more about this and my chance meeting with Stan Dudrick, the man who invented enteral nutrition, in this TWC editorial:
Nutrition, Wound Healing, and Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Here’s my article about nutritional screening of patients with wounds:
The Uphill Path to Value-Based Wound Care with Nutritional Assessment
CNN is airing the documentary “Apollo 11” (9 EDT/6 PDT), which includes new archival footage and HBO2 is showing the 1998 miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” (8:45 a.m. EDT/PDT) co-produced by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, which tells the story about the American space program from the Mercury Seven astronauts to the final Apollo lunar landing in 1972.