LBJ & the Helium Filled Astronaut
Produced by Larry Massett
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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."
President Lyndon B. Johnson lifts his beagle by the ears, April 27,
Photo Credit: Cecil Stoughton, LBJ Library Collection
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which nitrogen- the gas which can give people the bends- has been replaced
by helium.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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Copyright © 1999 The Kitchen Sisters