Dr. William Carpentier was chief physician for the Apollo 11 crew and is acknowledged as one of the greatest contributors to the field of space life science. His later career has focused on nuclear medicine, and four decades of exceptional work has resulted in important applications and advancements in radiology, diagnostics and cancer treatment.
When Carpentier was selected as one of NASA’s first aeromedical clinical investigators in 1965, responsible for the health and welfare of the astronauts, operational space medicine was a new field and research about the effects of microgravity on humans was limited. Carpentier thought the clinical tests and evaluations being developed for the Apollo Program were not enough and requested that comprehensive quantitative biomedical measurements be taken to ensure the welfare of the astronauts and to gain a better understanding of human health in weightlessness.
With a fast-approaching end-of-the-decade deadline for sending the first humans to the moon, Carpentier met with some resistance but, with the help of a number of research scientists, went on to develop a sophisticated set of standardized measurements for NASA’s astronauts. His natural diplomacy ensured full collaboration. The data collected formed a foundation for the development of NASA’s spaceflight biomedical database, which Carpentier believes will be key to solving problems of future human space flights.
Carpentier served as flight surgeon for several Gemini and Apollo missions, including Apollo 11, the first lunar landing. He worked closely with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins during their pre- and post-flight training, accompanying them on their 45-day worldwide tour and even standing in for the astronauts if they were unavailable, earning him the nickname “world famous physician.” He received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom for his vital work as a member of the Mission Operation Team for Apollo 13.
When the Apollo program ended in the 1970s, Carpentier pursued a second career as a pioneer in the emerging field of nuclear medicine. In 1973, he joined the Nuclear Medicine Division at Scott & White Healthcare in Texas, where he was instrumental to the division’s success and expansion, particularly during the significant growth of nuclear cardiology. Regarded as an exceptional physician, Carpentier trained and mentored many radiology residents and cardiology fellows over the years, impressing them with his knowledge and expertise — not to mention all the Apollo stories.
Since retiring from Scott & White in 2003, Carpentier is again working with NASA researchers to study changes in the cardiovascular system in microgravity. He is collaborating on combining and analyzing four decades of human physiology data from the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs to create a better understanding of the effects of microgravity on human physiology and aid in the development of health and safety guidelines for future astronauts.