Hubertus Strughold

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Hubertus Strughold
Hubertus Strughold
BornJune 15, 1898
DiedSeptember 25, 1986(1986-09-25) (aged 88)
CitizenshipGerman and American (1956)
Alma materUniversity of Göttingen; University of Würzburg
Known forSpace medicine, Nazi human experimentation
Scientific career
FieldsAviation medicine, space medicine, physiology

Hubertus Strughold (June 15, 1898 – September 25, 1986) was a German-born physiologist and prominent medical researcher. Beginning in 1935 he served as chief of aeromedical research for Hermann Göring's Ministry of Aviation, holding this position throughout World War II. In 1947 he was brought to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip and went on to serve in a number of high-level scientific posts with the US Air Force and NASA.

For his role in pioneering the study of the physical and psychological effects of manned spaceflight he became known as "The Father of Space Medicine".[1] Following his death, Strughold's activities in Germany during World War II came under greater scrutiny in the media and allegations surrounding his involvement in Nazi-era human experimentation greatly damaged his legacy.


Early life and academic career[edit]

Strughold was born in the town of Westtünnen-im-Hamm in the Prussian province of Westphalia on 15 June 1898. As a young man he studied medicine and the natural sciences at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Georg August University of Göttingen, where he received his doctorate (Dr. med. et phil.) in 1922. He later went on to obtain his medical degree (Dr. med.) from the University of Münster and completed his habilitation (Dr. habil.) at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg in 1927. Strughold also worked as a research assistant to the renowned German-Austrian physiologist Dr. Maximilian von Frey. He continued on at the University of Würzburg and pursued a career as a professor of physiology.

During this time Strughold's attention was increasingly drawn to the emerging science of aviation medicine and he collaborated with the famed World War I pilot Robert Ritter von Greim to study the effects of high-altitude flight on human biology. In 1928 Strughold traveled to the United States on a year-long research fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. He conducted specialized studies into aviation medicine and human physiology at the University of Chicago and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He also toured the medical laboratories at Harvard, Columbia and the Mayo Clinic. Strughold returned to Germany the following year and accepted a teaching position at the Würzburg Physiological Institute before eventually becoming a professor of physiology at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin.

Work for Nazi Germany[edit]

Through his association with Robert Ritter von Greim (now Adolf Hitler's personal pilot), Strughold became acquainted socially with Hermann Göring and other high-ranking members of the Nazi regime, though he never formally joined the Nazi Party. In April 1935, he was appointed director of the Berlin-based Research Institute for Aviation Medicine, a medical think tank that operated under the auspices of the Reich Ministry of Aviation. Under Strughold's leadership, the Institute grew to become Germany's foremost aeromedical research establishment, pioneering the study of the physical effects of high-altitude and supersonic speed flight, along with establishing the altitude chamber concept of "time of useful consciousness".

Though Strughold was ostensibly a civilian researcher, the majority of the studies and projects his institute undertook were commissioned and financed by the German armed forces (principally the Luftwaffe) as part of the Nazi's ongoing policy of re-armament preceding World War II. With the outbreak of war in 1939 the organization was absorbed into the German military and attached to the medical corps of the Luftwaffe where it was renamed the Air Force Institute for Aviation Medicine and placed under the command of Surgeon-General (Generaloberstabsarzt) Erich Hippke. Strughold himself was also commissioned as an officer in the German air force, eventually rising to the rank of Colonel (Oberst).

Human experimentation[edit]

In October 1942, Strughold and Hippke attended a medical conference in Nuremberg where SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Sigmund Rascher delivered a presentation outlining various "scientific" experiments he had conducted in conjunction with the Luftwaffe medical corps in which prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were used as human test subjects. These experiments included physiological tests during which camp inmates were immersed in freezing water, placed in air pressure chambers and made to endure exploratory surgery without anesthetic. Many of the inmates forced to participate died as a result.[2] What, if any, role Strughold himself may have had in Rascher's experiments remains a source of controversy. However several junior physicians who had participated in the medical atrocities had close personal and professional ties to Strughold, through both the Institute for Aviation Medicine and the Luftwaffe medical corps.

Following the German surrender in May 1945, Strughold claimed to Allied authorities that, despite his senior position with the Luftwaffe medical corps and his attendance at the October 1942 Nuremberg conference, he had no knowledge of the atrocities committed at Dachau. He was never subsequently charged with any wrongdoing by the Allies. However, a 1946 memorandum produced by the staff of the Nuremberg Trials listed Strughold as one of thirteen "persons, firms or individuals implicated" in the war crimes committed at Dachau. In addition, several of Strughold's wartime associates, including his former assistant Hermann Becker-Freyseng, were convicted of crimes against humanity in connection with the Dachau experiments at the 1946-1947 Nuremberg Doctor's Trial. During these proceedings, Strughold contributed several affidavits for the defense on behalf of his accused colleagues.

Work for the United States[edit]

In October 1945 Strughold returned to academia, becoming director of the Physiological Institute at Heidelberg University. He also began working on behalf of the US Army Air Force, becoming Chief Scientist of its Aeromedical Center, located on the campus of the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research. In this capacity Strughold edited German Aviation Medicine in World War II, a book-length summary of the knowledge gained by German aviation researchers during the war.

In 1947, Strughold was brought to the United States, along with many other highly valuable German scientists, as part of Operation Paperclip. With another former Luftwaffe physician, Richard Lindenberg, Strughold was assigned to the US Air Force School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field near San Antonio, Texas.[3] It was while at Randolph Field that Strughold began conducting some of the first research into the potential medical challenges posed by space travel, in conjunction with fellow "Paperclip Scientist" Dr. Heinz Haber.[4][5] Strughold coined the terms "space medicine" and "astrobiology" to describe this area of study in 1948. The following year he was appointed as the first and only Professor of Space Medicine at the US Air Force's newly established School of Aviation Medicine (SAM), one of the first institutions dedicated to conducting research on "astrobiology" and the so-called "human factors" associated with manned spaceflight. He first described "Mars jars", containers that simulate the atmosphere of Mars, that have now become an essential tool in astrobiological research.[6]

Under Strughold, the School of Aviation Medicine conducted pioneering studies on issues such as atmospheric control, the physical effects of weightlessness and the disruption of normal time cycles.[4][5] In 1951 Strughold revolutionized existing notions concerning spaceflight when he co-authored the influential research paper Where Does Space Begin? in which he proposed that space was present in small gradations that grew as altitude levels increased, rather than existing in remote regions of the atmosphere. Between 1952 and 1954 he would oversee the building of the space cabin simulator, a sealed chamber in which human test subjects were placed for extended periods of time in order to view the potential physical, astrobiological, and psychological effects of extra-atmospheric flight.

Strughold obtained US citizenship in 1956 and was appointed Chief Scientist of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Aerospace Medical Division in 1962. While at NASA, Strughold played a central role in designing the pressure suit and onboard life support systems used by both the Gemini and Apollo astronauts. He also directed the specialized training of the flight surgeons and medical staff of the Apollo program in advance of the planned mission to the Moon. Strughold retired from his position at NASA in 1968.


During his work on behalf of the US Air Force and NASA, Strughold was the subject of three different US government investigations into his suspected involvement in war crimes committed under the Nazis. A 1958 investigation by the Justice Department fully exonerated Strughold, while a second inquiry launched by the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1974 was later abandoned due to lack of evidence. In 1983 the Office of Special Investigations reopened his case but withdrew from the effort when Strughold died in September 1986.

Following his death, Strughold's alleged connection to the Dachau experiments became more widely known following the release of US Army Intelligence documents from 1945 that listed him among those being sought as war criminals by US authorities. These revelations did significant damage to Strughold's reputation and resulted in the revocation of various honors that had been bestowed upon him over the course of his career. In 1993, at the request of the World Jewish Congress, his portrait was removed from a mural of prominent physicians displayed at Ohio State University.

Following similar protests by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Air Force decided in 1995 to rename the Hubertus Strughold Aeromedical Library at Brooks Air Force Base, which had been named in Strughold's honor in 1977. His portrait, however, still hangs there. Further action by the ADL also led to Strughold's removal from the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico in May 2006.

Later revelations[edit]

Further questions about Strughold's activities during World War II emerged in 2004 following an investigation conducted by the Historical Committee of the German Society of Air and Space Medicine. The inquiry uncovered evidence of oxygen deprivation experiments carried out by Strughold's Institute for Aviation Medicine in 1943. According to these findings six epileptic children, between the ages of 11 and 13, were taken from the Nazis' Brandenburg Euthanasia Centre to Strughold's Berlin laboratory where they were placed in vacuum chambers to induce epileptic seizures in an effort to simulate the effects of high-altitude sicknesses, such as hypoxia.

While, unlike the Dachau experiments, all the test subjects survived the research process, this revelation led the Society of Air and Space Medicine to abolish a major award bearing Strughold's name. A similar campaign by American scholars prompted the US branch of the Aerospace Medical Association to announce in 2012 that it would also consider renaming a similar award, also named in Strughold's honor, which it had been bestowing since 1963. The move was met with opposition from defenders of Strughold, citing his many notable contributions to the American space program and the lack of any formal proof of his direct involvement in war crimes.[7]

Awards and honors[edit]

Known as The Father of Space Medicine[8]

Hubertus Strughold Award[edit]

The Hubertus Strughold Award was established by the Space Medicine Branch, known today as the Space Medicine Association, a member organization of the Aerospace Medical Association. In 1962 the Award was established in honor of Dr. Hubertus Strughold, also known as "The Father of Space Medicine".[2] The award was presented every year from 1963 through 2012 to a Space Medicine Branch member for outstanding contributions in applications and research in the field of space-related medical research.


  • 1963 Cpt. Ashton Graybiel, Cpt. M.D., USN
  • 1964 Maj. Gen. Otis O. Benson, Jr., USAF, M.C.
  • 1965 Hans-Georg Clamann, M.D.
  • 1966 Hermann J. Schaefer, Ph.D.
  • 1967 Charles Alden Berry, M.D.
  • 1968 David G. Simons, M.D.
  • 1969 Col. Stanley C. White, M.D., USAF, M.C.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walker, Andrew (November 21, 2005). "Project Paperclip: Dark side of the Moon". BBC News.
  2. ^ a b Campbell, Mark R.; Mohler, Stanley R.; Harsch, Viktor A.; Baisden, Denise (2007-07-01). "Hubertus Strughold: the "Father of Space Medicine"" (PDF). Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. 78 (7): 716–719, discussion 719. ISSN 0095-6562. PMID 17679572. S2CID 37218252. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-12-03.
  3. ^ Earle, Kenneth M. (September 1981). "Presentation of an Award for Meritorious Contributions to Neuropathology to Richard Lindenberg, M.D." Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology: 583-584. doi:10.1097/00005072-198109000-00009.
  4. ^ a b Strughold, Hubertus (1954). "Atmospheric space equivalence". The Journal of Aviation Medicine. 25 (4): 420–424. PMID 13192054.
  5. ^ a b Strughold, Hubertus (1956). "The U.S. Air Force experimental sealed cabin". The Journal of Aviation Medicine. 27 (1): 50–52. PMID 13286220.
  6. ^ Scoles, Sarah (2020-07-24). "The Doctor From Nazi Germany and the Roots of the Hunt for Life on Mars". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  7. ^ A Scientist's Nazi-Era Past Haunts Prestigious Space Prize, By LUCETTE LAGNADO, Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2012
  8. ^ Campbell, Mark; Harsch, Viktor (2013). Hubertus Strughold: Life and Work in the Fields of Space Medicine. p. 7. ISBN 9783937394473.


  • Musgrave, S (2000). "Hubertus Strughold Award". Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. Vol. 71, no. 8 (published Aug 2000). p. 874. PMID 10954370.
  • "Hubertus Strughold Award. Earl H. Wood, M.D., Ph.D". Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine. Vol. 73, no. 9 (published Sep 2002). 2002. pp. 948–9. PMID 12234052.

External links[edit]