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NASA shuttle program wraps up — with eulogy to animal pioneers? ;

August 21, 2011 - SPACE

NASA's shuttle mission ends Jul 21, and the office door closes a month later. The August finale represents an opportunity for eulogizing a host of unwitting space pioneers -- monkeys, dogs, mice, cats, spiders and the like. It will be a posthumous tribute: time has claimed the few creatures that survived experiments for systems that would eventually benefit space shuttle astronauts. The first animal spacefarers were given names. In the post-Apollo era, they are mere biological payloads. NASA's Brief History of Animals in Space records their contribution to spacefaring.

NASA's shuttle mission ends Jul 21, and the office door closes a month later. The August finale represents an opportunity for eulogizing a host of unwitting space pioneers -- monkeys, dogs, mice, cats, spiders and the like. It will be a posthumous tribute: time has claimed the few creatures that survived experiments for survival systems that would eventually benefit space shuttle astronauts. The first animal spacefarers were given names. In the post-Apollo era, they are mere biological payloads. NASA's "Brief History of Animals in Space" records their contribution to spacefaring. The goal of American and, later, Russian scientists was to launch living organisms into Space and bring each back alive and unharmed. The earliest Space passengers, monkeys, were sent aloft from the United States in V2 rockets in 1948 and 1949. The first animal survivor was a mouse in May 1950. On 20 Sep 1951, a monkey named Yorick and 11 mice were recovered after an Aerobee missile flight of 236,000 feet at Holloman Air Force Base in the United States. The Russians sent mice, rats and rabbits as one-way passengers for their initial tests. 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. The Russians were keen to gather data that would help in the design of a cabin for human spacefarers. On 3 Nov 1957, Sputnik 2 blasted into Earth orbit with a dog named Laika aboard, which perished after a few hours. A succession of failed experiments followed in the United States and Russia, killing scores of animals. The Russian failures provided enough data for the country's scientists to attempt sending a man in Space, and on 12 Apr 1961 Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. Ham, the first chimpanzee in Space, survived 6.6 minutes of weightlessness, which answered doubts that human's could survive in weightless conditions. Enos became the first chimp to orbit the earth on 29 Nov 1961, aboard a Mercury Atlas rocket. Back in the Soviet Union two dogs were launched aboard Kosmos 110 on 22 Feb 1966. The flight was an evaluation of prolonged effects during space travel of radiation from the Van Allen Belts on animals. Twenty-one days in space still stands as a canine record and was only surpassed by humans in Jun 1974 with the flight of Skylab 2. Most of the scores -- maybe hundreds -- of animals had names. After the manned lunar landing of Apollo 11, the role of animals was limited to the status of "biological payload." The range of species broadened to include rabbits, turtles, insects, spiders, fish, jellyfish, amoebae, and algae. Although they were still used in tests dealing with long-range health effects in space, tissue development, and mating in a zero-g environment, etc., animals no longer made the front pages. One exception to this was one of the last Apollo flights, Skylab 3, which launched on July 28, 1973. On board were Anita and Arabella, two common Cross spiders. Tests were set up to record the spiders' successful attempts to spin webs in space. (WRITTEN Jul 2011)

Brief History of Animals in Space (NASA)

Monkeys and other animals in Space (Space Today Online)

Date written/update: 2011-08-21