Flight surgeon school

Drafted into the Navy, Kerwin was interviewed at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. One of the duties offered was the very last place in a flight surgeon school, involving a training programme in aviation medicine at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. In addition to studying to be a flight surgeon, he would learn the basics of flying at pre-flight school, with about twenty hours of instruction. This appealed to Kerwin and he accepted, joining the Naval Medical Corps in July 1958.

From 1959 to 1961 he served as a medical officer in North Carolina, based at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point. He thoroughly enjoyed his tour with the Marines, and stated without hesitation: ''That's when I got the bug for flying.'' In 1960, he and Lee were married and Kerwin then applied for a special Navy programme, in which a small number of flight surgeons could train to become naval aviators. He was accepted.

In 1961, Kerwin transferred from the naval reserve to the regular Navy, and the Illinois physician-turned-Navy doctor then entered advanced flight training at NAS Chase Field, located in Beeville, Texas. To his delight, he was named the outstanding student in his pre-flight class. Flight training appealed to him, and he would earn his coveted gold wings as a designated naval aviator at Beeville in 1962. Subsequently, he became one of only twelve Navy flight surgeons who served simultaneously as doctors and jet pilots.

On the domestic front, he and Lee had a daughter, Sharon, on 14 September 1963. Eventually, two more daughters joined the family - Joanna, born 5 January 1966, and Kristina, born 4 May 1968.

Kerwin's next naval assignment was on the medical staff of Carrier Air Group (CAG) 4, stationed at Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida. It was here that he met two men who would have a big impact on his life - fellow naval aviators Jim Lovell and Alan Bean. Both men had applied to be NASA astronauts and needed help with their medical documentation, and this would prove to be his first real link with the space agency. ''It wasn't until I'd gotten my wings and met Lovell and Bean that I began to think I might have a chance. I was certainly ready!''

One night in 1964, he and Lee were watching television when a bulletin was read that would change his life forever. ''The TV newsman was David Brinkley, who said, 'NASA has announced that it will hire scientist-astronauts - to go to the Moon.' Lee looked over at me and said, 'I'll bet you'd like to do that.' I replied 'Oh, they'd never pick me.''' At that time, he had plans to leave the Navy after his next tour and take an ophthalmology residency at Northwestern.

Despite his plans, the announcement had enthralled Kerwin. By this time he had accumulated over 2,000 hours of flying time, so he knew that with this and his medical background he was eminently qualified under the guidelines laid down by NASA for applicants. He also recalled the excitement he had felt in discussing the space programme with future astronauts Lovell and Bean. ''I thought about it and applied through the Navy. Lee was initially hesitant, but she went along with my NASA ambitions with her usual grace and generosity.''

He modestly shrugs off the many difficulties involved in being selected, including the rigorous battery of tests and interviews. "Since there weren't many physicians who could pass the physical and had 2,000 hours of time in a single-engine jet aircraft, that turned out to be enough, and I was accepted into the astronaut programme in 1965.''

F. Curtis Michel, PhD.

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