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Danielson honored for protecting the hearing of our nation’s heroes

Soldiers and astronauts have inherently dangerous jobs, but there’s one hazard to which many people likely haven’t given a lot of thought– hearing loss. Baylor College of Medicine’s Richard Danielson has devoted his career to audiology-related issues in the military and at NASA, and now he’s being honored for his commitment to the field.

Danielson, who has a joint appointment in Baylor’s Bobby R. Alford Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and in the Center for Space Medicine, has received the Outstanding Hearing Conservationist Award from the National Hearing Conservation Association. He will accept the award at the association’s annual conference in March 13 - 15 in Las Vegas.

Danielson served 28 years in the U.S. Army, including serving during Operation Desert Storm as the officer-in-charge of the first Audiology Task Force ever deployed to a combat theater.

He attended college on an ROTC scholarship then earned his Bachelor of Science degree in audiology/speech pathology. After being commissioned, Danielson completed a Master of Science in audiology and later a Ph.D. in human development and communication sciences. During his military career, he served in multiple assignments, including a tour as the director of the Army Audiology and Speech Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

When Desert Storm was drawing to an end in 1991, soldiers were about to start pouring back into the U.S. First, though, they needed physical exams. Danielson led an initiative to develop mobile units in Saudi Arabia, conducting up to 1,200 hearing tests on some days.

“It was still a combat zone at this point. I had a pistol on my belt on one side and an otoscope on the other side,” he said. “But I guess you could say that was my ‘letter jacket’ year, because of what we were able to accomplish.”

After retiring from the Army in 2003, Danielson joined Baylor’s faculty and currently directs the Audiology and Hearing Conservation Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. In that role, he provides clinical, administrative and research support to NASA's efforts to prevent noise-related hearing loss among active and former astronauts and other flight personnel, as well as ground-based NASA employees and contractors at JSC.

Astronauts and cosmonauts undergo audiological tests before and after space missions, and Danielson also monitors them with in-orbit hearing assessments on the International Space Station.

“It’s not just hearing loss that we’re concerned about, but we also want to ensure that noise does not interfere with communications and even sleep for those aboard the ISS,” Danielson said. “People often don’t appreciate acoustics to be a significant issue until I give them a demonstration of the noise levels on the space station that our astronauts deal with for many months at a time.”