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April 14, 2015
Going to Mars, a risky prospect
Vanderbilt University is alive with activity. Students are milling about the campus while medical students with lab coats and clipboards fill seats inside the auditorium. The university’s Light Hall is nearly filled to capacity for what promises to be an impressive presentation. Roy L. DeHart, famed for his research in aerospace and occupational medicine, is about to give one of the most anticipated announcements of his career: will NASA go to Mars?
Long-duration space flight is a massive undertaking and understanding the effects of space exploration on the human body has taken nearly two decades to understand. NASA first talked about a manned mission to Mars in 1997. One of the top physicians brought onboard the medical research team, Dr. Roy L. DeHart.
With a glittering 23 year career in the Air Force after retiring in 1983 following a stint as commander of Fort Brooks Hospital, DeHart turned his considerable talent to teaching, leading the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Department at Oklahoma University from 1987 until Vanderbilt University recruited him to develop the same department for their university in 1998.
The lynchpin in DeHart’s presentation is the research he has conducted over the course of his career after leaving the Air Force. In 1985 he edited The Fundamentals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, considered the “bible” by professionals in the industry. After editing two subsequent editions in 1996 and 2002, DeHart confirms why he is the best in his field and why he is ideal for this presentation, for this announcement.
“This research has been wonderful to undertake I have always wanted to see a manned mission to Mars in my lifetime,” said DeHart before his presentation. He just might live to see a manned mission, and thanks to his research, the rest of the world might see a manned mission to Mars as well.
Impeccably dressed in a dark blue Brooks Brothers suit and a tie with illustrations of the planets, not only does DeHart look the part, an authority on medicine and space, his very presence exudes sharp intelligence and a no-nonsense attitude. Speaking with his wife, Julia, who assisted him preparing his presentation for this evening, “Roy is very excited about this presentation he has worked so hard on it, pouring his heart and soul into the research and making sure everything is perfect. He really is a perfectionist and it shows,” she said, beaming. Julia has been with him ever since they first met in the fourth grade back in 1946. I asked her why he is so devoted to research on aerospace medicine, “He’s always been intrigued by space, and since he was not a candidate to be an astronaut himself, he instead devoted his energy to making sure the astronauts were medically prepared for the final frontier,” she said.
Going to the moon was a feat for NASA and for man; however, going to the red planet presents its own set of unique challenges.
DeHart carefully presents the facts: it would take three years to make it to Mars and back. Astronauts face the daunting task of staying alive during the flight. He humorously suggested that NASA needs to also look at the issue of food in space, “freeze-dried ice cream just will not cut it and you certainly cannot take a Domino’s pizza with you in space,” he quips to an amused audience. There are still kinks in the hose to be worked out; a new space vehicle called Orion is set to replace the much antiquated space shuttle system first introduced in 1981 and retired in 2009.
Ending his stellar presentation, DeHart presented photographs of interstellar space taken by the famous Hubble Telescope, leaving his audience with this thought: “Mars is just a step away from becoming reality, and I am proud to have taken part in the medical research to get a new generation of space explorers into space.”
OHA is a private medical and consultation company, specializing in occupational health, patient advocacy, site visitations, and corporate presentations on toxicology, causation and aerospace medicine. For more information contact OHA at 615-556-8349 or visit OccupationalHealthNashville.com
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