Distinguished Antarctic veteran 'retires' to take NASA post

Des Lugg reminisces at his farewell function at the Australian Antarctic Division.
Des Lugg reminisces at his farewell function at the Australian Antarctic Division.

Over three decades in charge of Australia's Antarctic medical program came to an end on 1 June 2001 when Dr Des Lugg left the Australian Antarctic Division to take up a prestigious position with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The move ended an Antarctic career which began in 1962 with Des's posting to Davis as station medical officer. He became head of polar medicine at the Australian Antarctic Division in 1968, a position he has held until this year.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Robert Hill, paid tribute to Des for his distinguished career with the Australian Antarctic Division and wished him well in his new career with NASA. 'Dr Lugg's contribution to Antarctic medicine is unsurpassed, meeting the continuing challenges presented by Antarctic isolation and natural conditions as well as the changing demands of new technology, new programs and new social conditions,' Senator Hill said.

For the past 10 years the focus of Des's research has been on the analogy between living in Antarctica and long duration space flight, a link which he will be able to develop in his new work with NASA. Des was awarded the Polar Medal in 1969, and became a Member of the Order of Australia in 1984.

Des considers the great advances in communications technology and the social changes to Antarctic expeditions, notably the increasing numbers of women travelling south, as the major developments during his time with the AAD. He said that despite the improved communications enabling better 'tele-medicine', Antarctica is as difficult and dangerous a place today as it was in the time of Scott and Mawson.

'Antarctica will always be special to me, even though I came with jet-black hair and look what it has done to me,' Des said at his farewell from the AAD on 1 June. 'Antarctica is not metropolitan Australia. It is a special place and we must look after it and continue to bend our wills to keep it that way,'

'It's the people who have left the great imprint with me. You cannot imagine what all that support and the little kindnesses have meant in cancelling out the bits one forgets or suppresses.' he told AAD staff. 'You work for a great organisation whose potential I believe has never been totally tapped. You have a rosy future if you are prepared to take your future into your own hands and work together.'

When Des began ANARE service in 1962, Antarctic medicine was 'a one-man band with little money and equipment'. He led the battle to provide expeditioners with the best medical services possible, as well as to establish medical research on an equal footing with other disciplines. His success in this is emphasised by his appointment to a Visiting Professorship at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), based in Texas, and ultimately as Chief of NASA's Medicine of Extreme Environments department, based at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. Des left Australia in late September for his new life in the United States.