After completing her fine arts degree at the Dayton Art Institute in the 1930s, the military recruited Alice King Chatham to work on high-altitude protective gear. As a personal equipment design engineer/scientist in advanced biotechnology at the Aero Medical Laboratory her knowledge of the human form and expertise in sculpture assisted in developing devices to protect Airmen. Throughout her Air Force and NASA career, she worked on many notable projects including helmets, oxygen masks, protective clothing, and restraints and tethering devices for humans and animal test subjects.
One of Chatham’s first military designs was a pressurized rubber mask for fighter pilots. After the war she hand-sewed the helmet Chuck Yeager wore while breaking the sound barrier. While working for NASA she again relied on her sculpture skills and knowledge of anatomy to create custom-fitted masks and helmets for the Project Mercury astronauts by casting the heads of the original seven astronauts in wax.
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