One memorable scene in the movie The Right Stuff portrays a lung capacity test. The astronaut candidates blow into a tube with water and a ping-pong ball. They must blow just hard enough to keep the ball between two lines, and the amount of time they can do this on one breath is measured. The test is done with a group of candidates, leading to an impromptu "contest".

  1. Did the real Mercury candidates have a lung capacity test similar to that shown in the movie, including the ping-pong ball?
  2. Was such testing done as a group, rather than one-person-at-a-time?

lung test

Gordon Cooper: (during the lung capacity test) Ha! 93 seconds. Read it and weep.

(notices Glenn and Carpenter are still exhaling)

John Glenn: (Glenn has run out of breath well past Gordo's time) Congratulations, Scott. Darn good.

Scott Carpenter: (shaking Glenn's hand) You were probably just getting warmed up, John. Next time I doubt I'll be the one to win.

Gus Grissom: (to Gordo) You hear that? We were competing with Archie and Jughead

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    $\begingroup$ A classic. Very good book too. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    May 8, 2019 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ I flipped through the Holloman part of the book, and the competitive blowing scene didn't appear in the book. I suspect it was made up for the movie. $\endgroup$ May 9, 2019 at 1:02

1 Answer 1


This article on health concerns for space tourists includes a photo of Wally Schirra performing the lung capacity test:

enter image description here.

He appears to be blowing into a tube but it's unclear if there's a ball balancing somewhere, and by all appearances he's being tested solo. I'd be very surprised if such tests were ever administered to a group at once.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice find. The researcher is holding something in his hand, which might plausibly be a stopwatch. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    May 8, 2019 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ See also history.nasa.gov/SP-4003.pdf, search for 'spirometry' $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ Wait... "health concerns for space tourists"? Do you mean we won't have a pregnant space tourist give birth in the ESA module, just to test birthright citizenship? ;^) $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    May 8, 2019 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ Could a group test give some insight into the psychology of the astronauts, both individually and as a group? $\endgroup$
    – DJohnM
    May 8, 2019 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @DJohnM Sure, but the lung guys aren't psychiatrists. ;) $\endgroup$ May 9, 2019 at 4:07

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