Letter to the Editor:  NASA Astronaut Medical Records                                                                                            Spaceflight 51:354, 2009.


Regarding the celebration of man’s great achievements in exploring the Moon 40 years ago there are medical problems, exemplified by the case of at least one of the 12 moon walkers; an important part of this information has not been revealed to the public.

Through the Freedom of Information Act  (FOIA ), I obtained  from  NASA a couple of years ago, the surprising information that Apollo 15 moon walker James  Irwin  showed -at rest -moderate hypertension  (145/110) a  month prior to his mission and,  in addition, probably ( no date ) on the day after his return, a stress test blood pressure reaching  the extraordinary level of over 275 / 125 after only 3 minutes of exercise!  Having supervised over 5000 hospital-based symptom- limited maximum stress tests, I have never witnessed stress test blood pressures even approaching this level!  Furthermore of 55 pages I received from NASA regarding Irwin, 11 pages contained no dates.

In addition, Irwin experienced a brief episode  of loss of consciousness while storing gear shortly  after return  to the command module  from  the lunar surface-  triggered by a brief disturbance in heart  rhythm- and, during the 4 minute  re-entry period  back to earth, he suffered  classical angina along with so much shortness of breath  he was unable to talk. These symptoms were described in Irwin’s autobiography: To Rule the Night. Twenty one months later Irwin experienced the first of four heart attacks but survived until 1990.

Unfortunately, NASA will provide information through the FOIA only regarding deceased astronauts. When I requested  stress test and laboratory data on the other 2 deceased moon walkers - Conrad, Apollo 12, and Shepard, Apollo 14, - for comparison  with Irwin’s,  I found  that the data was too incomplete to publish. When I apprised NASA of this I was informed that “after a thorough search of all the paper and electronic data no other information, other than the one already provided, could be located. “

Without publishing Irwin’s stress test data, the opportunity to trigger potential research as to the etiology of this extraordinary stress test –hypertension has been lost for over 35 years. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816:  “The most sacred of the duties of a government is to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens. “                                                                                            

William J. Rowe M.D.

Former Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine
Medical U. of Ohio at Toledo


1. Johnston, RS, Diedein, LF, Berry, CA. eds.  Biomedical Results of Apollo. Washington DC : National Aeronautics and Space Administration; 1975: 227-264, 573-579, 581-592. NASA SP-368.
2.Berry, CA,  Apollo  15  medical status briefing. Manned Spacecraft Center Aug, 13, 1971.  Apollo 15, PC-59.