Bill Thornton's association with the study of human adaptation to space flight stretched back to the 1960s and his involvement in the USAF Manned Orbiting Laboratory Program. He worked on an exercise programme that would have been conducted by the MOL crews during the thirty-day missions had the programme not been cancelled in 1969. By then, Thornton had joined NASA and, drawing on his medical and physics background, became assigned to the Skylab programme and early developments in the Shuttle/Spacelab programme in the 1970s. After Skylab and a year's leave in 1976 to study at the Texas Medical School in Galveston (where he became a clinical instructor), Thornton returned to the CB to work on developing Spacelab procedures, maintenance techniques for crew health and experiments for Space Adaptation Syndrome for STS-4 through 7. In 1977 Thornton, still an active astronaut but with no sign of getting an early space flight, applied as a candidate payload specialist for Spacelab 1 but was not selected. He developed his ideas for treadmill exercises from the rudimentary device flown on Skylab as well as about a dozen other exercise devices for use on the Shuttle.
Following his work on developing the Teflon sheet slider "treadmill" on Skylab, Thornton continued this work for the Shuttle. His Shuttle treadmill flew for the first time on STS-2, using a shiny plate (not Teflon) to allow the astronauts to "jog in place, not slide in stocking feet.'' This was something he should have developed for Skylab but did not have time to devote to it. His basic but effective Skylab device could have been much improved with longer development time and with the knowledge that he gained about human muscle physiology in space after the missions. He received a small grant and fabricated the new treadmill for later Shuttle missions, despite strin-
gent weight and volume restrictions and the need to be able to stow and unpack the device without too much difficulty on orbit. It flew on the Shuttle for several years from 1982 though, as Thornton readily admitted, "you did not really need it. It was useful in Shuttle but it was not essential the way it was on Skylab.''
For the sixteen years he had been an astronaut Thornton, more than any other member of the CB, had developed techniques and ideas for keeping his colleagues healthy in orbit. These included a lower body negative pressure suit to keep fluids from leaving the legs and migrating to the upper torso and head in microgravity (the Russians had used a similar device - called Chibis - on their Salyut stations for years. It was far more bulky than Thornton's device). During those sixteen years, Thornton began to think that he would never fly into space, but Space Adaptation Syndrome -space sickness - was exactly what he had been studying for years. Of the sixteen members of the first six Shuttle flights of between two and five days, five astronauts had suffered a loss of appetite, four had experienced general malaise, five had suffered headaches, four had stomach complaints, three had nausea and six had vomited.
Concerns were being raised within NASA that if this pattern continued without addressing the problem, it could seriously affect the workload and health of future crews, as well as the ability of some astronauts to bring the orbiter home safely. Thornton was therefore assigned to STS-8 to investigate this problem first-hand, with similar experiments being conducted by Dr. Norman Thagard on STS-7.
His CB colleagues dubbed Thornton a workaholic, as he would arrive at the office at 7: 00 a.m. and not leave until 7: 00 p.m. seven days a week. But they also acknowledged that if anyone could find the causes of space sickness and determine the best preventative methods and procedures to overcome them, it would be Thornton. He was also known as the "last angry man'' for the way he battled against bureaucratic decisions over what could or could not be accomplished in space. Thornton would simply tell the bureaucrats in no uncertain terms how he would achieve the objective and leave it at that. It was clear around JSC that Bill Thornton would not take "no" for an answer.
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