Perry native prepares to go where few men have gone before

August 8, 2013

by Ameila Holliday — Staff Reporter

Space: the final frontier. Few have been able to complete the rigorous testing needed to explore the great unknown, however, that number may begin to grow in the next few years.

A.J. Hall, a Hazard native, hopes to join those elite ranks — at least so far as the testing goes.

“I’ve always been adventurous,” Hall laughed, sitting on her front porch the day before she was leaving for the testing in Philadelphia. “I ran away when I was 2 years old. I ran away to the next street over, Craig Street. One of the relatives saw me and said, ‘Where you going, Alice Jane?’”

Hall, who turns 70 in October, was accepted last month to be part of a medical test to study the effects of space shuttle liftoff on those people who may not be as healthy as the usual astronaut.

“They want to do a study, because only the healthiest people have ever gone to space,” Hall said.

Hall said she is one of 120 volunteers to be accepted for the study to experience the same centrifugal test astronauts do in their testing, and was actually very surprised to find out she was chosen.

“When she called and told me I was accepted I said, ‘Are you sure?’” she said.

Hall said it took a minute to realize that though she was not the picture of health as one would expect an astronaut to be she was exactly what the study was looking for.

In 1983, Hall was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an abnormal collection of arteries and veins which had collected in a spot on her brain. She had brain surgery to remove what she said was basically a mole on her brain caused by the condition.

“When they did the surgery it changed all the electrical things in my brain, so like I can’t see, I don’t have any peripheral vision in my left eye,” Hall said.

Besides influencing her vision, the surgery also caused Hall to have seizures, for which she takes medicine to control. Add arthritis and obesity into the equation, and Hall said she must be a perfect fit for the study.

“They’re really interested in the medicine I’m taking for my seizures and everything,” she said, noting that that will be one thing closely watched by the researchers in the study.

Hall said the study is being conducted by the University of Texas and the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center, a commercial air and space training, research, and educational facility, in order to prepare for when commercial space travel becomes a reality.

“The prospect is, and this is true, in the future say 10 years, five years even, tourism in space is going to become a thing because people with money will be able to afford to buy tickets,” she said.

According to NASA, commercial flights could begin as early as 2017. Hall said many celebrities have already preordered tickets for commercial flights, including pop singer Justin Beiber.

Hall’s test group will be tested on Aug. 5 and 6, with the first day acting as sort of an introduction to the centrifuge and the second day used to really push the participants’ tolerance of G forces.

“I’ve been watching Youtube videos of it,” Hall said, adding she had changed her diet to lean more on the lighter side. “As long as there are no regurgitation episodes I should be fine with it.”