James Paget Henry was born on July 12, 1914, in Leipzig, Germany. In the early 1930’s he immigrated to England, then in 1939, to the United States. He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1948. Paget graduated from Sidney Sussex College in 1935 with a B.A. degree, earned a master’s degree from Cambridge University in 1938 and an M.D. degree from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1952. He received a Ph.D. from McGill University, in Montreal, Canada in 1955.
Henry worked on acceleration physiology with the USC Human Centrifuge from 1943 to 1947. A colonel in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps during the Second World War, he also served as the Chief of the Acceleration and Stress at the Biophysics Branch of the Aero Medical Laboratory at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. In 1943, while still at USC he designed and patented the first partial pressure suit for high altitude use. Modern spacesuits are derived from Henry’s breakthrough “g-suit” design.
In 1947, James P. Henry moved his work on the pressure suit from USC to Wright-Patterson. In the early 1950’s he played an important role in America’s early space program as the director of the Air Force’s Physiology of Rocket Flight research project. In May 1952 he supervised some of the first successful animal rocket tests, the launching Aerobee rockets containing live mice and monkeys to altitudes of 236,000 feet at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
Dr. Henry was the next director of Project Mercury’s animal program in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He worked at the Holloman Aeromedical Laboratory with the first higher primates sent into space, the chimpanzees HAM and Enos. Their flights for Project Mercury were to reveal significant medical data used in upcoming manned missions.
HAM made a sub-orbital flight (MR-2) in January 1961 that included a seven-minute exposure to weightlessness. The absence of any deleterious effects from the flight enabled NASA to launch its first two manned sub-orbital missions, Alan Shepard in May 1961 and Virgil “Gus” Grissom in July 1961. In December 1961, the chimp Enos was sent on a much more demanding three-hour, two-orbital mission, MA-5. His excellent performance during the flight and good condition afterward encouraged NASA to launch a manned orbital mission, and on February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.
In 1963, Dr. James Paget Henry left NASA and in 1965 returned to USC as a professor of physiology. He became an emeritus professor of physiology at the USC School of Medicine in 1982 and continued his research on the relationship between hypertension and stress. After a distinguished career, he died of cancer on November 20, 1996, in Los Angeles, California. He was eighty-two.