James G. Gaume, M.D. Papers

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During World War II, Dr. James Gaume served as an army flight surgeon in the China-Burma-India Theater. Following the war, he worked as a small town doctor in Ellinwood, Kansas. In 1956, Dr. Gaume closed his practice to work at the School of Aviation Medicine, Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio with Dr. Hubertus Strughold, the “Father of Space Medicine.”

His research involved testing the space cabin simulator, which could manufacture and maintain an artificial atmosphere. In the space cabin simulator, scientists would “study the change in the composition of the atmosphere produced by the presence of the occupant…and…try to develop devices which will automatically keep this chamber at…tolerable levels.” One-man tests of the simulator also included ways of recycling water by distilling and condensing water vapor recovered from the air and urine, thereby eliminating the need to store water onboard. The first test lasted 24 hours and, over the next two years, became increasingly longer. The tests attracted national attention. In 1958, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and a crowd of reporters greeted test subject, Airman Donald G. Farrell, as he emerged from his seven days inside the cabin.

In 1959, Dr. Gaume began to research a life support system to be stationed on the Moon that would, in essence, be a miniature replica of the closed ecology of Earth’s system. In theory, the structure was designed to be self-sustaining. Dr. Gaume created a Lunar Housing Simulator capable of short term independent operation that could support a crew of five. The testing of the Lunar Housing Simulator was conducted under partially simulated lunar conditions, even though no one knew what those conditions were. For example, the decision was made to grow crops using hydroponics (the growth of plants in water) because “As yet we do not know the composition of moon soil, and growth in this soil is not predictable.” While lunar housing has yet to become a reality, Dr. Gaume’s futuristic research remains applicable for continuing interest in building structures on the Moon and Mars.

From 1964-1982 Dr. Gaume was the Chief of Aerospace Medicine and as Manager of Aviation Medicine and Safety Research at the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. During this period, he became a leading authority on how to react to fires aboard commercial aircraft. He discovered that most fires begin accidently in either the lavatory or the cargo compartments, which led him to develop the phrase “time of useful function” (TUF). TUF describes the time available for a person to escape the fire environment before incapacitation. Investigators in the US and abroad adopted this concept to gauge the time available for passenger exit in commercial aircraft. It also led to the development of fire resistant fabric and padding for seats and other safety upgrades.

Dr. Gaume retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1985 and lived in Palos Verdes Estates, California until his death in 1996.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act. (2018)


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