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Social Anthropology: Events


Innovation on the Reservation: Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care, 1965-1980

Innovation on the Reservation: Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care, 1965-1980
Speaker: Professor Jeremy Greene # Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
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Date and Time
9th Nov 2018 15:00 - 9th Nov 2018 17:00
Seminar Room 1, Chrystal Macmillan Building

In May of 1973, an unusual collaboration between the NASA, the Indian Health Service, and the Lockheed Missile and Space Company promised to transform the way that members of the
Papago (now Tohono O’odham) Nation of Southern Arizona accessed modern medicine.  Through a system of state-of the art microwave relays, slow-scan television links, and mobile health units, 
the residents of this vast reservation—roughly the size of the state of Connecticut—would access physicians  Remotely via telemedical encounters instead of traveling to distant hospitals. The STARPAHC (Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care) partnership lasted from 1973 to 1977, But  its legacies continue today.

The mission of STARPAHC was twofold: first, to help NASA test out its new Integrated Medical and Behavioral Laboratory Measurement System for use in future manned space flight, second, to help the IHS
assess the role of new technologies for providing care across a vast rural landscape. While other accounts have explored the role of STARPAHC as an early telemedical system,
little has been written on how or why the Papago reservation became an experimental site for biomedical communication technologies. We argue that STARPAHC was not entirely unprecedented,
and had roots in other Cold War investigations into the role of health technologies in domestic and international health policy. Well before NASA became involved on the Papago reservation, the IHS
had designated the Papago reservation as a “population laboratory” for testing new communications technologies inpublic health and primary health care, and tribal leadership had likewise developed this role
through engagements with other forms of prototype electronic medical technologies.

This paper explores the configuration of the Papago reservation as an experimental site whose value derived in part from the ability of stakeholders in the IHS, the Peace Corps, and NASA
to generalize its terrain to stand in for any number of other Native American reservations, villages in Malawi, Liberia, and Korea, or extra-terrestrial landscapes, respectively, as a proving ground for
health communications technologies. This talk, drawn largely from archival materials and published articles is part of a larger project on the uses of communications technologies to resolve disparities in access to health care in the late 20th century.

Freshers 2013