Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Famous, Smart Cousin

So when researching their ancestry I guess most people are hoping that, at some point, they'll find they are related to a president, a great general or at least a king or something. Up until now, I have uncovered your basic assortment of Revolutionary War heroes, brave settlers, Civil War POWs, farmers and the like.

But I finally found someone famous. And even better, he's really smart, famous AND helped promote women at NASA, which means he is now going to be my daughters' patron saint of making As in science.

My great-great-great grandfather, Thomas A. Lovelace moved to Haywood County from Iredell County, NC by way of Kentucky while his brother Levi, with whom he appears to have been close, moved to Franklin Co., MO right before the Civil War in the early 1860s. Thomas had taken off years before since it appears that in 1842, Thomas sold Levi the plantation he had inherited from their father for $500. In their father Thomas' will, Thomas A. and Levi had each received, "the plantations on which they lived and suits of strong cloth to make them equal to what the others got.”

Sounds like they were snappy dressers.

Levi would have a son named John Lazenby Lovelace and one grandson named Edgar and another, who became a doctor; William Randolph. Unfortunately, not William Randolph Hearst. Edgar's son and Levi's great-grandson would be Dr. William "Randy" Lovelace II.

Dr. Randy Lovelace, is the one who did some really interesting things.

First, he pursued a medical career in the footsteps of his uncle and received his M.D. from Harvard University in 1934. Then, he began a surgery fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and he was eventually appointed Chief of Surgery. As the US was preparing for the possibility of war in the late 1930s, The Mayo Clinic was asked to form a research unit to develop solutions to the physiological challenges associated with high-altitude flight. Basically, when pilots jumped out of damaged airplanes, they would die because of lack of oxygen. Dr. Lovelace proposed that pilots be provided small, personal oxygen bottles, but the military denied official permission to test the idea. Dr. Lovelace, tested it anyway, jumping from a bomber at 40,200 feet with a small oxygen bottle taped to his leg. Despite being knocked unconscious when exiting the plane, he survived the experiment and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross when the government finally acknowledged the feat and adopted the strategy.

Eventually, he developed an oxygen-mask for use in high-altitude aircraft and helped establish the Lovelace Medical Foundation, currently known as the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, in Albuquerque, NM.

In 1958, Lovelace was appointed chairman of NASA's Special Advisory Committee on Life Science at NASA Headquarters. Then, in 1960, Dr. Lovelace and Brig. General Donald Flickinger invited award-winning pilot Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb to undergo the physical testing regimen that Lovelace’s Albuquerque, New Mexico Foundation had developed to help select NASA’s first astronauts.

Dr. Lovelace also served as head of NASA’s Special Committee on Bioastronautics. When Cobb became the first woman to pass the tests, Lovelace announced her success at a 1960 conference in Stockholm, Sweden. Lovelace then invited more women pilots to take the tests. Jacqueline Cochran, the famous pilot, businesswoman, and Lovelace’s old friend, joined the project as an adviser and paid all of the women’s testing expenses.

Dr. Lovelace went on to play a central role in selecting the Mercury Seven astronauts who are also known as The Original Seven and Astronaut Group 1. It included Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald Slayton. I think every child of the '60s remembers a few of those names. Dr. Lovelace had helped NASA draw up a profile of the perfect astronaut, based on years of medical testing experience of pilots. These guidelines were used to help select astronauts for the Gemini and Apollo programs. Lovelace believed that these guidelines showed that women were just as capable of space travel as men, and in 1960, he helped choose 25 female astronaut candidates, some of which were selected as the "Mercury Thirteen" the next year. However, NASA would not send a woman into space until 1983, when Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on the shuttle Challenger.

In 1964, Dr. Lovelace was appointed by President Johnson as Director of Space Medicine for NASA.

Sadly, in 1965, he and his wife were killed when their chartered airplane crashed in the Colorado mountains.

Each year, the William Randolph Lovelace II Award recognizes outstanding contributions to space science and technology. The 2009 winner was Buzz Aldrin. Dr. Lovelace has also been honored with the Lovelace Crater on the moon.

Today, The Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute is the nation’s largest independent, not-for-profit organization conducting basic and applied research on the causes and treatments of respiratory illness and disease. Dr. Lovelace’s youngest daughter, Jacqueline Lovelace Johnson, is the current Chair of The Institute Board of Directors.

So that's my famous and smart cousin. OK, sort of distant but I have always thought either of my daughters would make a great astronaut...or doctor so it is good to know it's in their blood.

You can check out the rest of my Lovelace Family genealogy on my Haywood County Line Web site.


The Lovelace Research Institute

History of the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute

William Randolph Lovelace II on Wikipedia

The Mercury Seven on Wikipedia

Dr. Lovelace in the International Space Hall of Fame

The William Randolph Lovelace Award

Jacqueline Cochran on Wikipedia

Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb in Encyclopedia of Science

No comments:

Post a Comment