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First animals travelled in space to make way for human

Before humans actually went into space, one of the prevailing theories about the perils of space flight was that humans might not be able to survive long periods of weightlessness.

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space, spacecraft, nasa, isro, animals in space, animals, dog, cat

We were all very proud and excited to see the successful landing of the Lander Module of ISRO’s third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3. India became the first country to land near the Moon’s south pole. This is a very proud moment for the country and the space researchers. ISRO scientists have told the world that ‘Chanda Mama’ is no longer far away from us. India has added one golden chapter to the history of space exploration. This mission is successful because many animal species have contributed to space exploration in the past. Before humans actually went into space, one of the prevailing theories about the perils of space flight was that humans might not be able to survive long periods of weightlessness.

For several years, there has been a serious debate among scientists about the effects of prolonged weightlessness. American and Russian scientists utilized animals—mainly monkeys, chimps, and dogs—in order to test each country’s ability to launch a living organism into space and bring it back alive and unharmed. Scientists were curious to know how the body reacts to microgravity. Many experiments were conducted on humans, but due to certain uncertainties, animals were chosen to go on space exploration. Chimpanzees were one of the first mammals to travel into space. In those days, nobody knew if people could survive a trip away from Earth, so using animals was one of the alternatives to doing research and exploration. In 1948, a rhesus macaque monkey named Albert flew inside a V2 rocket. In 1957, the Russians sent a dog named Laika into orbit. Both of these flights showed that humans could survive weightlessness and the effects of high gravitational forces. Gradually, the number of animals sent into space was reduced. Most experiments could be conducted in space without involving animals.

In 1973, however, a Skylab space project studied circadian rhythm. This experiment used several mice. From there, the Space Shuttle program evolved, which included a more suitable environment for animals. Due to housing needs and the feasibility of space travel, the lowest form of life was sent to space. The species chosen were snails and fish because these species can be applied to human conditions: inner ear exams can be done in a snail rather than a highly evolved mammal, and genetic studies can be conducted in fish.

On September 20, 1951, a monkey named Yorick and 11 mice were recovered after an Aerobee missile flight of 236,000 feet at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Yorick got a fair amount of press as the first monkey to live through a space flight. On May 22, 1952, two Philippine monkeys, Patricia and Mike, were enclosed in an Aerobee nose section at Holloman Air Force Base. Patricia was placed in a seated position and Mike in a prone position to determine differences in the effects of rapid acceleration. Fired 36 miles up at a speed of 2000 mph, these two monkeys were the first primates to reach such a high altitude. Also on this flight were two white mice, Mildred and Albert. They were inside a slowly rotating drum where they could “float” during the period of weightlessness. The section containing the animals was recovered safely from the upper atmosphere by parachute. Patricia died of natural causes about two years later, and Mike died in 1967, both at the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC.

The Soviets kept close tabs on what the U.S. was doing with their V-2 and Aerobee missile projects during the early 1950’s. Basing their experiments on American biomedical research, Soviet rocket pioneer Sergei Korolev, his biomedical expert Vladimir Yazdovsky, and a small team used mice, rats, and rabbits as one-way passengers for their initial tests. They needed to gather data to design a cabin to carry a human being into space. Eventually, they chose small dogs for this phase of testing. Dogs were chosen over monkeys because it was felt that they would be less fidgety in flight. A test with two dogs would allow for more accurate results. They chose females because of the relative ease of controlling waste. Between 1951 and 1952, the Soviet R-1 series rockets carried nine dogs altogether, with three dogs flying twice. Each flight carried a pair of dogs in hermetically sealed containers that were recovered by parachute. Of these early space-bound hounds, a few have been remembered by name.

On August 15, 1951, Dezik and Tsygan (“Gypsy”) were launched. These two were the first canine suborbital astronauts. They were successfully retrieved. In early September 1951, Dezik and Lisa were launched. This second early Russian dog flight was unsuccessful. The dogs died, but a data recorder survived. Korolev was devastated by the loss of these dogs. Shortly afterwards, Smelaya (“Bold”) and Malyshka (“Little One”) were launched. Smelaya ran off the day before the launch. The crew was worried that wolves that lived nearby would eat her. She returned a day later, and the test flight resumed successfully. The fourth test launch was a failure, with two dog fatalities. However, in the same month, the fifth test launch of two dogs was successful. On September 15, 1951, the sixth of the two-dog launches occurred. One of the two dogs, Bobik, escaped, and a replacement was found near the local canteen. She was a mutt, given the name ZIB, the Russian acronym for substitute for Missing Dog Bobik. The two dogs reached 100 kilometers and returned successfully. Other dogs associated with this series of flights included Albina (“Whitey”), Dymka (“Smoky”), Modnista (“Fashionable”), and Kozyavka (“Gnat”).

Gordo, a squirrel monkey, was catapulted 600 miles high in a Jupiter rocket, also on December 13, 1958, one year after the Soviets launched Laika. Gordo’s capsule was never found in the Atlantic Ocean. He died on splashdown when a flotation mechanism failed, but Navy doctors said signals on his respiration and heartbeat proved humans could withstand a similar trip. Able, an American-born rhesus monkey, and Baker, a South American squirrel monkey, followed on May 28, 1959, aboard an Army Jupiter missile.

Four black mice were launched on June 3, 1959, on Discoverer 3, part of the Corona program of U.S. spy satellites, which was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a Thor Agena A rocket. This was the only Discoverer flight with an animal payload. Miss Sam, another rhesus monkey and Sam’s mate, was launched on January 21, 1960, for another test of the LES.  Goliath, a one-and-a-half-pound squirrel monkey, was launched in an Air Force Atlas E rocket on November 10, 1961. Enos became the first chimpanzee to orbit the earth on November 29, 1961, aboard a Mercury Atlas rocket. His mission concluded the testing for a human orbital flight, achieved by John Glenn on February 20, 1962. Enos died at Holloman Air Force Base of a non-space related case of dysentery 11 months after his flight. On October 18, 1963, French scientists launched the first cat into space on Veronique AGI sounding rocket No. 47. The cat, named Félicette, was successfully retrieved after a parachute descent, but a second feline flight on October 24 ran into difficulties that prevented recovery.

Back in the Soviet Union, the dogs Veterok (“Breeze”) and Ugoyok (“Little Piece Of Coal”) were launched aboard Kosmos 110 by the Soviet Union on February 22, 1966. The flight was an evaluation of the prolonged effects of radiation from the Van Allen Belts during space travel on animals. Twenty-one days in space still stand as a canine record and were only surpassed by humans in June 1974 with the flight of Skylab 2.

From 1973 to 1996, Russia, or its predecessor, the Soviet Union, launched a series of life sciences satellites called Bion. Research partners have included Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, China, the Commonwealth of Independent States, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the European Space Agency, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and the United States.

 Bion missions are typically put under the Kosmos umbrella name, which is used for a variety of different satellites, including spy satellites. The first Bion launch was Kosmos 605, launched on October 31, 1973. The satellite carried tortoises, rats, insects, and fungi on a 22-day mission. Other missions have also carried plants, mold, quail eggs, fish, newts, frogs, cells, and seeds.

Starting with Bion 6 (Kosmos 1514), these missions have carried pairs of monkeys. Bion 6/Kosmos 1514 was launched on December 14, 1983, and carried the monkeys Abrek and Bion on a five-day flight. Bion 7/Kosmos 1667 was launched on July 10, 1985, and carried the monkeys Verny (“Faithful”) and Gordy (“Proud”) on a seven-day flight. Bion 8/Kosmos 1887 was launched on September 29, 1987, and carried the monkeys Yerosha (“Drowsy”) and Dryoma (“Shaggy”) on a 13-day flight. Bion 10/Kosmos 2229 was launched on December 29, 1992, and carried the monkeys Krosh (“Tiny”) and Ivasha on a 12-day flight. A biological payload record was set on April 17, 1998, when over two thousand creatures joined the seven-member crew of the shuttle Columbia (STS-90) for a sixteen-day mission of intensive neurological testing (NEUROLAB). And that’s how humans made their entry into space exploration.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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