Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
Prather, Victor, ca. 1923-1961
Lieutenant Commander Victor A. Prather, Jr. (ca. 1923-1961), A1944, M1952, was a member of the V-12 Program at Tufts and went on to Tufts Medical School. After two years of practice he was called back to the Navy and graduated from flight surgeon school. He spent one year at Miramar Naval Air Station, half of it on air carrier duty in the Pacific, and was then sent to Port Lyantey in Morocco for three years as flight surgeon for the VR24 squadron, which supported the Mediterranean sixth (supply) fleet. He then was attached to "Project RAM" at the Bethesda Naval Research Institute, the precursor of the Mercury program, whose objective it was to develop a space suit.
Victor Prather was a space hero before there was space flight. Before man walked in space and stepped on the moon, he saw the world from the edge of space, 113,740 feet high. He and his colleague, Commander Ross, rose to this height on May 4, 1961, seated in an open gondola suspended beneath a Strato-Lab balloon of the Office of Naval Research. (This gondola is now in the Naval Air Museum at the Pensacola Naval Station in Florida.) For nine hours their survival depended on their space suits whose actual operating capabilities they were to determine. They were exposed to minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit and air pressures below 0.1 pounds per square inch. The flight was highly successful, but Victor Prather lost his life, inexplicably slipping into the sea while being picked up by Navy helicopters. President Kennedy phoned and then received his widow and her children at the White House to present the Navy's Distinguished Flying Cross awarded to Prather for heroism and extraordinary achievement.
Lieutenant Commander Victor Prather and Commander Ross are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, adjacent to the tomb of the unknown soldier.
The Class of 1947 Victor Prather Scholarship was founded in his honor in 1972.