|John Charles is a lead project scientist for the Space and Life Sciences
Directorate at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.|
Johnson Space Center,
John Charles has spent a career dedicated to realizing the potential
of space exploration and helping people to travel in space safely
June 2002 -
As a child, John Charles dreamed of being an astronaut and exploring space. Like many other children of the 1960s, he avidly followed
the "space race," especially John Glenn's journey into space. Although he never became an astronaut, he has fulfilled his
dream in other ways. From investigating crew health and supporting
research on the Russian Space Station Mir to training John Glenn for a return trip to orbit and overseeing the upcoming STS-107 science
mission, Charles has worked to discover and solve the challenges
that will arise as humans take the next step into space.
"At about age 10, I decided to quit dreaming and actually focus
on a career in the space business." Charles was interested
in physics but knew that he was not strong enough in math to be
successful in that course of study. He also had an interest in biology,
especially physiology, and realized that a career as a research
physiologist could combine with his desire to do space-related work.
To that end, he obtained a bachelor's degree in biophysics from
Ohio State University in 1977 and a Ph.D. in physiology and biophysics
from the University of Kentucky in 1983. Charles arrived at Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, in 1983 as a postdoctoral
fellow in the medical research branch. He was hired as a full-time
employee in the cardiovascular laboratory in 1985.
later, he became the director of that lab. Charles spent a large
part of his lab career at JSC looking at the problem of orthostatic
intolerance, the feeling of faintness that astronauts experience
on their return to Earth from orbit. The condition is caused by
insufficient blood pressure in the brain resulting from the body.s
inability to adjust blood pressure after adapting to reduced gravity.
Charles. team helped to formalize a postflight test of orthostatic
function and developed the lower body negative pressure (LBNP) technique
to pull fluids out of the upper body and back into the lower body.
the cardiovascular lab in 1994 when he joined the shuttle/Mir program,
which encompassed a series of 11 U.S. space shuttle missions to
the Russian space station. He worked as a deputy to Peggy Whitson,
the project scientist for the program, and took over her position
when she was selected for the astronaut corps. After his tour with
the shuttle/Mir program, Charles was assigned to be the liaison
between the Human Space Life Sciences Programs Office (now the Office
of Bioastronautics) and the Mars Exploration Planning Office at
JSC. He also became the lead for the Bioastronautics Critical Path
Roadmap Project. Charles notes that this project, a collaborative
effort with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute that
was conceived in 1997, was originally designed to target physiological
problems that need to be solved to make a crewed mission to Mars
path roadmap is currently focused on the problems of the space station,"
says Charles, "and I view that as also providing a very strong
foundation for any subsequent decision to move beyond low Earth
orbit. Many of the problems that would confront humans going to
Mars are the same problems we would have on any long-duration space
station mission. It's really not apples and oranges; it's really
one size apple versus a different size apple."
to his planning work for NASA, Charles has continued to contribute
to the success of the shuttle program. He served as project scientist
for the experiments that John Glenn conducted during the flight of STS-95 in1998 and is the mission scientist for STS-107. He defines
his role as mission scientist as "being an advocate for the
mission experiments that come through the Office of Biological and
Physical Research." He believes that his years of lab work
at JSC provided him with a greater capacity for representing the
scientists in dealing with program offices, mission planners, and
management: "I.d like to make sure that the people who are
actually answering the questions are not forgotten in the big bureaucratic
shuffle that seems to surround huge programs like the space shuttle
or the space station."
a high point of his career with NASA: "I have to rate as one
of the highest the chance to work with John Glenn, because he inspired me way back in 1962 to be interested in spaceflight. Then 36 years
later, when he flew on the shuttle, I dealt with him on a fairly
regular basis to prepare our experiments for him to do in flight.
It was always a thrill for me to see and speak to him. It was sort
of a full circle, going from being inspired by him to working with
him and having him consider me a part of his team."
himself remaining part of the NASA team for the future and expects
to continue to be involved in strategic planning to help find the
answers to the problems of long-duration spaceflight.
is to have the answers ready. When they say, 'We want to send people
to Mars or the Moon. Are we ready to do that?' I would like to be
in the position to help the life sciences [people] say, 'Yes, and
here are the answers to the questions.'"
and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight