March 13, 2017

Author: Jean Lindquist Bergey

Photo of Harry Larson who participated in the NAVY/NASA Research shares his story with Gallaudet Senior, Maggie Kopp, who spent over a year researching the subject.

From 1958 to 1968, a joint research project of the U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration studied balance, motion sickness, and weightlessness with the help of test subjects who are deaf. Extreme gravitational forces and motion act on the organs of the inner ear, making even the most experienced pilots sick. To learn more about endurance and functionality in space, researchers turned to Gallaudet where they found students, faculty and staff, aged 25 - 48, immune to motion sickness. Their ability to withstand intense movement turned a so-called "labyrinthine defect" into a valuable research asset. Spinning in centrifuges, rotating for days in a circular room, or free-floating in zero-gravity flights, they enthusiastically participated, putting body and mind into the study. Their physical difference and skill at communicating what they observed enabled research on how humans might survive and thrive in space.

Gallaudet senior Maggie Kopp, collaborating with five of the men involved in the research - Barron Gulak, Harry Larson, David Myers, Donald Peterson, and John Zakutney, as well as staff from the Drs. John S. & Betty J. Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center and the Gallaudet University Museum, co-curated Deaf Difference + Space Survival. The title was inspired by a quote from "test subject" Harry Larson, who said, "We were different in a way they needed." Over 150 photographs, historic footage, documents, several scientific reports, personal letters and filmed interviews helped shape the script. The exhibition shows how Deaf contributions to research on physical, sensory difference was integral to early space exploration.

Exhibition Opening & Reception: April 11, 2017, 1:00PM

Gallaudet University, I. King Jordan Student Academic Center
Weyerhaeuser Family Gallery, Gallaudet University Museum Annex

The opening will be in ASL and spoken English with CART service. For other access requests please contact