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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 2. 1966.

Bomb test worry to astronauts

page 3

Bomb test worry to astronauts

Nuclear Explosions in the atmosphere, such as the hydrogen bomb scheduled to be detonated by France over the Pacific, are of definite concern to astronauts, Dr. Duane Catterson, physician to the Gemini 6 and 7 space missions, told me in an interview last Monday.

Referring to the coming French nuclear test, Dr. Catterson said that "it will be necessary to monitor atmospheric changes very carefully. We will have to take perturbations into account."

Data collected after past nuclear tests has shown that the degree of ionizing radiation in the atmosphere has increased, he added.

However, Dr. Catterson did not seem afraid for the safety of future astronauts due to increased atmospheric radiation. "It is our business to deal with hostile atmospheres," he said.

Dr. Catterson visited Wellington as part of a party accompanying American astronauts Captain Frank Borman, 38, and Colonel Walter M. Schirra Jr., 43, who stopped in New Zealand on the last leg of an eight-country Pacific goodwill tour. Borman and Schirra piloted their respective capsules to a rendezvous in space 187 miles from earth last December 15.

During their 23½-hour stay in Wellington, the astronauts spoke to approximately 500 Wellingtonians at a civic reception, lectured a gathering of scientists at VUW, and attended fetes given in their honour by the American Ambassador, Mr. Herbert B. Powell, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Holyoake.

The intent of the visit was to stress the "openness" of the American space programme, astronaut Borman explained. "We want to show the people we've met that our space programme is directed at peace, and when in future they see an American-manned spacecraft going overhead, we want them to think that there goes a friend," he said.

When asked to estimate the expense of the astronaut's tour, Mr. Richard Freeman, International Affairs programme officer of NASA (National Aeronautic and Space Administration), also with the visiting party, said that special arrangements such as the use of military transport made judging the cost difficult.

Perhaps the greatest cost, according to Dr. Catterson, was that the two astronauts had been pulled out of the Gemini programme for the three-week tour. The tour was originated on request of President Johnson, Dr. Catterson said, "and when the President asks, you don't refuse."

Evaluating the trip, Dr. Catterson declined to assess how far the astronauts had increased international understanding, but he did acknowledge that it had had a "profound influence" on the travelling party. "The unexpected interest and knowledge which the Asians showed has convinced me, as a private citizen, that our space mission is a real world achievement. We will be taking back with us some inspiration," he said.