Retired Navy Capt. Norman Lee Barr, 71, a physician and aviator noted for his contributions to space medicine, died Thursday at Harper Hospital in Detroit. He had emphysema.

Capt. Barr became chief of Navy aviation medicine in 1956. He had been studying the effects of high altitudes on the human body for some years. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite, on Oct. 4, 1957, Capt. Barr was director of Project RAM (Research Astronautical Medicine) in addition to his other duties.

He developed an electronic device for monitoring heartbeats of fliers in space. As the director of Project RAM, he supervised the sending of two monkeys, Ham and Able, into space aboard a U.S. satellite. He also helped select the first seven astronauts for the U.S. manned space program.

Capt. Barr's electronic device for monitoring heartbeats came into wide use by physicians checking the reactions of patients on exercise machines. It also has been used by doctors in medical centers to diagnose patients in remote areas.

Capt. Barr was born in Myrtlewood, Ala. He grew up there and in Pace, Miss. He graduated from Mississippi College and then joined the old Army Air Corps. He was commissioned a pilot in 1929, and spent the next two years at stations in the United States and the Panama Canal Zone.

After two years as a civilian pilot for an airline in Central and South America, he entered Georgetown University Medical School. Following his graduation in 1938, he went into the Navy Medical Corps and later qualified as a Navy pilot.

Capt. Barr came to Washington in 1946 and was assigned to the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. He later became head of aviation medicine at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and then returned to the bureau in Washington.

He retired from the Navy in 1959 and became head of the life sciences division of General Motors Corp. in Detroit. Until last year, he had been in the private practice of medicine in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Capt. Barr's survivors include his wife, Zola, of the home in Bloomfield Hills; a son, Dr. Norman Jr., and a daughter, Mrs. Peter Bent Johnson, both of Washington, and five grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture, CAPT. NORMAN L. BARR, 1959 Photo