John Paul Stapp, Colonel, USAF (MC) Ph. D., M.D., Sc. D.
John Paul Stapp was born in Bahia, Brazil, 11 July 1910, first son of the late Reverend and Mrs. Charles F. Stapp, Southern Baptist Foreign Missionaries. His childhood was spent in Brazil; his parents, both teachers, gave him his primary education. At the age of 12 he was brought to the United States by his parents who left him in San Marcos Academy, San Marcos, Texas, where he completed high school. In 1927 he entered Baylor University, Waco, Texas, graduating with a B.A. in 1931 and a M.A. degree in Zoology and Chemistry in 1932. During the years 1932-34 he was an instructor in Zoology and Chemistry at Decatur Baptist College, Decatur, Texas. He entered graduate school at the University of Texas, Austin, Texas, in 1934, pursuing a doctorate in Biophysics as a teaching fellow. The degree was awarded in absentia in 1940, after he had completed a year of Medical School in the University of Minnesota, working as a teaching fellow. He received the MD degree at the end of a general rotating internship at St. Mary's Hospital, Duluth, Minnesota, in 1944. He entered active duty as a 1st Lt. Medical Corps, 4 October 1944. He completed the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, in 1944, the Flight Surgeon's Course at the School of Aviation Medicine in 1945, and the Industrial Medical Seminar in 1946. In 1955 he became a Diplomat in the American Board of Preventive Medicine, Specialty of Aviation Medicine, serving as an examiner on this board through 1957. In 1956, as commencement speaker at Baylor University, he was awarded an honorary D. Sc.
During his service career Colonel Stapp has served as General Duty Medical Officer, Industrial Medical Officer, Flight Surgeon, and Research Specialist in Aviation and Space Medicine. He founded and organized two laboratories for the Air Force; the Aeromedical Facility at Edwards Air Force Base; the Aeromedical Field Laboratory of Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
During the interval from 1946 through 1958, Colonel Stapp pioneered in research on the effects of mechanical force on living tissues. In the course of these investigations, a quantitative stress analysis of the human body to limits of voluntary tolerance of crash type impacts and decelerations. These dynamic stress analyses, including 76 human experiments with rocket sleds decelerated from aircraft crash velocities, over 200 experiments with human volunteers on swings, catapults and other decelerating devices, provide criteria for aircraft and ground vehicle safety design; for tolerance limits of trajectories of ejection seats and escape capsules for supersonic and hypersonic; and basic data applicable to impact forces expected in space ballistic flight.
Simultaneously, effects of windblast were studied, both by exposure of volunteers on high speed rocket sleds and in jet aircraft flights with canopy removed. As a volunteer for 29 of the rocket sled deceleration and windblast experiments, Colonel Stapp sustained decelerations of 25 g average and 40 g peaks during a stop in 1.4 seconds from a velocity of 632 miles per hour attained by a rocket sled in 1954, in the last experiment of this series. Colonel Stapp has not sustained loss of consciousness nor permanent disability from any of these experiments, although he incurred two wrist fractures, rib fractures, retinal hemorrhages and lesser injuries at various times. Establishment of human tolerance limits to impact forces in the order of 10,000 lbs. for durations of a quarter of a second or less, and findings on the quantitative relationship of the rate on onset of mechanical force to injurious and lethal effects were worth the hazard of these experiments.
Colonel Stapp planned and directed the high altitude balloon flights with human subjects which were accomplished in June 1957 and August of the same year. In the latter flight, Colonel David G. Simons attained 102,000 feet altitude during a 32 hour and 10 minutes flight.
Colonel Stapp was assigned as Chief of the Aero Medical Laboratory of Wright Air Development Center, Dayton, Ohio as of August 1959. He directed research and development in aviation and space life-sciences.
Aerospace medical pioneer Col. (Dr.) John Stapp died November 13, 1999 at his home in Alamagordo, N.M, at age 89. Some of Stapp's honors included: National Aviation Hall of Fame; Jet Pioneers of America; International Space Hall of Fame; Safety Health Hall of Fame; Air Force Cheney Award for Valor; and the Lovelace Award from NASA for aerospace medical research.