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LBJ & the Helium Filled Astronaut
Produced by Larry Massett
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    LBJ
    President Lyndon B. Johnson lifts his beagle by the ears, April 27, 1964.
    Photo Credit: Cecil Stoughton, LBJ Library Collection
    Producer Larry Massett shares a found piece of tape. It's a rare recording of the President of the United States from 1964. At the time, the US Navy had a project called "SeaLab."

    The Navy was experimenting with sending divers to deeper and deeper depths for longer and longer periods of time. One of these divers- the former astronaut Scott Carpenter- has just set a world record: he's spent thirty days in the ocean at a depth of 200 feet.

    A pre-arranged phone call to the White House is planned. The idea is to have President Lyndon Johnson offer Commander Carpenter a formal congratulation. This is a purely ceremonial call. It should be cut-and-dried. But there's a bizarre problem. Commander Carpenter is no longer underwater; he's in a decompression chamber. He's breathing air in which nitrogen- the gas which can give people the bends- has been replaced by helium. Helium is harmless, but it distorts the voice. When he speaks, Commander Carpenter sounds like Mickey Mouse.


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