From insects to primates, from dogs and cats to cold-blooded reptiles, animals have played an important role in space exploration since the first fruit flies were launched into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. land in 1947.
Animals are the earliest precursors of human space programme. International space agencies rely on a variety of animals to test spacecraft survivability, as well as the impact microgravity can have on human biological processes.
Immediately after launching fruit flies, American researchers released monkeys and rats on suborbital flights between 1948 and 1951. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union sent dozens of stray dogs onto suborbital flights. orbits throughout the 1950s – all before the Russian cosmonaut. Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel into space on April 12, 1961.
Space.com sat down with Stephen Walker, author of “Beyond: The incredible story of the first human to leave our planet and travel into space“(Harper, 2021), to discuss the important role animals played in paving the way for humans to go into space and how it all began nearly 75 years ago. This interview has been edited for length. and clear. You can find the book on Amazon.
Space.com: What are some of the animals that live in space that you mentioned in your research?
Stephen Walker: Thousands animals have been in space. As far as I can tell from my research, the different animals – and the amazing variety – include, in no particular order, dogs, cats, monkeys, chimpanzees, fruit flies, cockroaches, jellyfish, frogs, moths, spiders, crickets, turtles, worms, honey bees, mice, rats, snails, ants, squid and of course guinea pigs.
And there is a particular animal that I love very much, which is tardigrade. Sometimes referred to as water bears, they are these tiny, sweet-looking creatures that can absolutely survive just about anywhere. In 2007, a European Space Agency mission placed 3,000 tardigrades outside a rocket, exposing the animals to all of the dangers of space – radiation, no oxygen, heat extremely cold. They were not protected by anything and about 68% of them survived for 12 days. I mean, it’s really unbelievable.
Some other examples include frogs, which were sent into space to study balance in a state of weightlessness. Honey bees were sent in to understand if they were building hives or making honey in space – and how they did. The Soviet Union sent two turtles around the moon in 1968, a short time before that Apollo 8. In 2011, two spiders – Esmeralda and Gladys – were studied on International Space Station and can adapt to zero gravity and create pretty strange spatial webs to capture survival flies.
So a lot of animals went to space. It all started with fruit flies in 1947 and continues to this day in 2021, with baby squid most recently launched in June, aboard the Dragon cargo capsule as part of a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station.
Space.com: Why do you think animals were sent to space for the first time?
Walker: In 1947, the cold war had begun and at this point it was clear that The next frontier is space. And, frankly, the next battleground between the Soviet Union and the United States. However, there’s a lot they don’t know about space or how the human body would respond to the kind of velocity needed to reach Earth’s orbit.
So to find out, what they had to do was send animals – starting with some fruit flies in 1947, which the United States launched about 40 miles into the upper atmosphere. V2 . missile. Then they switched to monkeys. In 1948, they started Project Albert – a pivotal moment in the history of spaceflight. The project consists of six separate flights, each with one gray brown monkey inside the V2 fire arrow cone. One by one of those monkeys was killed.
Space.com: How are different animals chosen for space flight experiments?
Walker: As I said in my book”Go beyond, “the selection of animals for experiments reflects the ideological culture of that society. When the Russians started sending animals into space in 1951, they started keeping dogs because they are docile and easy to train. training – they’re basically meant to endure the mission, just like the astronauts.
Americans chose chimpanzees, in part because of their obvious similarities to humans. American astronauts would have more control of their spacecraft than Soviet cosmonauts and so inevitably chimpanzees were assigned tasks that involved certain automated actions, towing. levers etc. to verify that humans can also do this in space.
You could say that the Soviets were more about submission and the Americans were more about autonomy and independent action, rather than their ideology.
Space.com: How did the Soviet Union choose the dogs they sent to space?
Walker: They chose dogs on the streets of Moscow. They looked for very specific types of dogs: female dogs, because they are easier to defecate than male dogs; hybrid dogs, because the idea is that they will be tougher; small dogs to fit inside the space capsule; and the dogs are brightly colored to make them easier to see on the camera on the spacecraft. The dogs were then secretly trained at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Moscow.
However, many of the dogs sent to space have died during their flights, possibly more than 20 of them. Laika – the first dog in space – met a particularly tragic death in November 1957. He was sent on a one-way mission aboard Sputnik 2, and this is where we started to see the reaction from the scientists. works for animal rights because the Soviet Union was technologically incapable of bringing Laika home. She had enough food and oxygen for seven days, but would die in orbit, which sparked real anger across the West. She became a real symbol of the Soviet Union until Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.
Space.com: How has animal involvement changed as the space program evolved?
Walker: Well, we don’t have primates going into space anymore – Lapik and Multik [two rhesus monkeys that flew on the Bion 11 mission, a life science collaboration of the U.S., Russia and France] were the last monkeys to be launched into space in 1996, unless you count may not exist Iran mission in 2013.
Half [animal] they’re looking to study things like muscular dystrophy and whether animals and humans can survive extended periods of time in space. For example, a 1998 mission called Neurolab focused on the effects of microgravity on the nervous system. This mission has the largest number of animals accompanied by seven crew members on board space shuttle Columbia. There are 10,000 crickets, 12 cages of rats and a whole bunch of other animals – it’s Noah’s Ark.
One of the really interesting things they discovered during that task was that many mothers stopped nursing their babies in a state of weightlessness; they did not cope with motherhood. As a result, half of the pups died within the first few days because they were not fed, warmed or sheltered by their mothers.
Space.com: How did sending animals to space help pave the way for humans to go into space?
Walker: Let’s take an example. 60 years ago, Enos became the first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth on November 29, 1961. His flight was a full costume rehearsal for John GlennThe first American self-orbiting flight to orbit the Earth – took place in February 1962.
Every element of Enos flight is designed to test the upcoming human orbital flight, using the same hardware, the same Mercury capsules, similar tracking systems, etc. In order for the Americans to determine whether humans could actually pilot spacecraft, they tested chimpanzees’ ability to move levers in response to signals certain light signals, using a device called a psychomotor. If they make a mistake, they will be electrocuted in their legs.
Enos is the smartest gorilla – he can work psychologically and never make a mistake. There is a special exercise where they are rewarded with a banana if done correctly. One of the tests required the chimp to pull one of the levers exactly 50 times to get a banana. Enos is so good at this – I mean, a chimpanzee counting to 50 – that on the 49th pull, it will put out its hand ready for the one it knows will drop after the next pull. That’s how good he is.
When Enos launched in November 1961, something horribly wrong with the psychomotor inside the capsule and he received 35 electric shocks for getting it right. But something unbelievable happened here too. It was clear from early NASA reports that Enos understood something was wrong and actually tried to control the system by pulling different levers to change the situation – unbelievable.
These animals made terrible sacrifices, no doubt. But they did help pave the way for human space flight. More people will die if animals are not used. Many things will go wrong. The same probably applies today as we reflect on man’s mission to Mars and even more. But we must never forget there is always a heavy price to pay. We need to change that, and we need to remember.
https://www.space.com/animals-in-space-history-human-spaceflight Honoring the animal astronauts who paved the way for humans to fly into space