Bioastronautics Data Book

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture, that he hopes you'll want to buy. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist, started a webcasting company, and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with a common-law wife, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

As I'm sure you're all aware, today is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I adore pretty much everything about manned space exploration, so to commemorate this hallowed date I'd like to share a fascinating piece of Apollo-era NASA history: the Bioastronautics Data Book.
The Bioastronautics Data Book is a reference for people who design manned spacecraft. It's essentially an amazingly detailed description of the peculiarities of the particular cargo they're designing for: people. You see, as contents of a spaceship, people are probably some of the messiest, drippiest, most fragile, and out-gassingest things you can possibly imagine. Luckily, you don't have to imagine, as the researchers of this book break down every single thing a person can possibly ooze, excrete, pass, spit, fart, hack up, you name it.

It's absolutely fascinating. Ever wonder what's in a fart? It's all here. How about the tolerances of people to g-forces, or temperature, or vacuum?

Many of the charts are quite funny in their scientific detachment. The chart that basically describes all the ways you can be broken and crushed by large falls or crashes is called "Impact Experience." There's a chart labeled "Radiation Damage to Male Gonads."

It's easy to picture some harried, nervous, dead-eyed young intern that they've been using for these tests. There's cold exposure charts with "pain zone" clearly delineated, a carbon dioxide effects chart with 4 zones: No effect, minor perceptive changes, distracting discomfort, and dizziness, stupor, unconsciousness. Even seemingly simple tests like saliva generation have the faint hint of a sadist at the helm: to get more saliva, they mention using "Paraffin-activated" collection. It would have killed them to give out gum?

This book is fascinating from both a perspective of appreciating how truly daunting the task of making workable spaceships really was, and as an owner and operator of a human body, it's like finally finding the factory shop manual. Special thanks also goes out to T.Mike, who is my man in the field for finding good crap.


  1. As we know at the end of WW2 the USA and USSR raced to acquire Nazi rocket scientists, and as much of their research (including research into the tolerances of the human body) as possible.

    Research that involved the torture and murder of hundreds, perhaps thousands of concentration camp victims. Including work carried out at Auschwitz-Birkenau by the notorious Dr. Mengle; and other ‘scientists’ at camps like Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrück, and others.

    Experiments in particular relating to the human bodies tolerance for pressure and apoxia (so called ‘high altitude’ research) as revealed at the Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals.

    Given all that, there’s a more than slim possibility that some or much of this information was derived from the most unbearable suffering imaginable. Which makes the documents casual sadism even more chilling.

  2. Along the same lines, GE released a book that’s been heavily revised called the Handbook on Human Factors. Which describes in abject absolute detail every facet of design for interfaces involving human beings.

  3. I hate to crap all over BB’s adoration with everything Japanese, but in addition to the Germans we must also include Japan’s myriad horrific experiments in Manchuria during WWII. Like Germany, the main scientists involved were exonerated by the US in exchange for the “valuable” data they could provide. I would guess that NASA’s biometric book is almost certainly stained with the blood of these innocent people.

    There’s an excellent if chilling short documentary online about this whole thing called “Nightmare in Manchuria.” I could just barely stomach watching the entire thing.

  4. I used this book in the 70’s designing advanced deep sea diving systems for the USN. Bought a copy a few years ago as a keepsake.

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