The pursuit of space has presented numerous physical, technical and scientific barriers to those who would leave the surface of the planet to explore in a new environment. That environment is essentially without atmosphere, without gravity, without protection from radiation, without those evolutionary constants that shaped our form and physiology. Of all things associated with being human, our entrance into the environment of space is atypical in every way. Our physiology functions within the certainties of an Earthbound existence; life having evolved within the specific limitations of ambient temperature, atmospheric pressure, atmospheric chemistries and gases, gravitational fields, electromagnetic influences, radiation exposure, light requirements, perceptible sound, the food and water content of our diets, our exposure to other living organisms and our relationship to each other. We exist within defined environmental and social specifications outside of which new science, new technologies and new concepts are needed to sustain our fragile lives.

The exploration of space, perhaps exaggerated by the futurists and science fiction writers of the early 20th century, became a competitive activity following Sputnik's successful flight and was certainly fuelled by the Cold War politics of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The introduction of humans into space became a frenzied activity. Risks were taken to achieve the unimaginable. Behind the high-visibility flight programmes existed steady and cautious life sciences research programmes aimed at understanding the risks that each astronaut and cosmonaut took, from the initial assignment to flight, through launch, flight, recovery and the post-flight period. Much information was gained from those who flew into space; but most of the risk was taken by laboratory animals launched into space to understand those risks, as nations worked to assure the health and safety of the humans who would eventually follow.

The collective memory of the use of animals for life sciences research in space during the modern era spans nearly 60 years since the first rockets carried animals in the late 1940s. During the 1950s and 1960s, the animals that flew into space became part of the Space Race and part of the personality of innovation and progress. The names of some of these animals were part of the space programmes' language but represented the quiet and professional work of hundreds of scientists and technicians. Today some still remember names like Enos, Ham, Able, Baker, Sam, Bonnie, Martine, Pierrette, Lapik, Multik, Tsygan, Dezik, Albert and, of course, Laika. Each flew a mission to help develop telemetry systems, understand physiologic changes, and identify safety and risk factors that humans might face during space flight. Each demonstrated that life in space is hazardous but that these hazards could be overcome. Collective memories sometimes span too many years, too many individuals and too many locations to be of real benefit in recalling the details of the history of space. The details are there, only needing to be linked into a cohesive narrative that appropriately reflects on the culture, the players, the stake holders, the animal subjects and the science.

The use of animals in space research is a unique collection of individual projects coordinated by scientists from many nations linked by common goals and motivations. The competitive nature of the Space Race tended to isolate the different national programmes. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Bion programme seemed to transcend political barriers, as the former Soviet Union invited American and European scientists to participate as colleagues in a number of space flights, focusing on animal research and conducted on Soviet space vehicles. Ironically, even during the peak of the Cold War these collaborations continued, providing a scientific bridge between nations. A type of integrated scientific activity occurred among international colleagues separated by language and politics but linked by common problem sets and the common research environment of space. Successes and failures occurred jointly during the Bion programme, forging relationships and friendships that transcend language and politics. Trust and confidence between colleagues from different nations does not come with an academic degree or a research reputation but rather from shared experiences and contributions to common goals and shared responsibility for research progress and programmatic growth.

Life sciences research is complex enough when conducted in the known environments of a terrestrial laboratory, a laboratory where equipment and research subjects remain firmly attached to a surface and governed by the gravity of the Earth. Experimental design and execution become dramatically more difficult in the relatively unknown surroundings of space. Take, for example, the single issue of habitat design.

Significant effort has gone into habitat design in an attempt to meet the welfare needs of animals in space. Most of us go through life never asking how to design an aquatic environment for housing fish, where the water in the habitat, if left unchecked, would float across the room and with little perturbation break into hundreds of smaller, free-floating droplets. Or where, if the fish penetrated the water's surface tension, they could drift away, unable to re-enter their watery home because gravity did not pull them down and through the liquid-air interface. Unless required, nobody wonders how to contain free-floating urine or faeces within an animals' enclosure, or what the risk of inhaling such waste poses to the subject. We never ask, "Where do crumbs from food pellets go if not to the floor?'' or "How do you provide water through a sipper when gravity does not assist in moving it to the open end of the sipper tube?" "How will animals sleep?" "Do they nest in a ball, curled up and snuggled, or are they merely floating in free space, startled awake by every contact with every surface?''

These questions go on and on, asked with every animal flight. Habitat design for space flight is a research effort separate from the scientific questions, yet critical to animal welfare and scientific validity. The space agencies conducting animal research design animal habitats through a design system that links life scientists, veterinarians, animal behaviour experts, materials scientists and engineers in a process that will meet the needs of the animal subject, the animal care staff and the scientist, while meeting the design constraints of volume, mass, power and ease of operation.

Many of the animal subjects used in the space programme flew without the companionship of astronaut or cosmonaut. Most were carefully selected for flight based on health, personality, training, ability to perform specific tasks and the ability to tolerate the experimental conditions while in gravity. Training and adaptation of the animal subjects in many cases took months. Technicians and scientists often spent more time in the laboratory working towards flight than at home with friends and family. In many cases the animal subjects became like family. It is possible to have a relationship with a newt, fish, rodent and non-human primate. Laboratory personnel develop commitments not only to the science but also to the experimental subjects. Scientists, astronauts, cosmonauts, laboratory technicians and animal care staff understand the risks, the significance and importance of each research effort and work with total commitment to its success.

The crews that have conducted animal studies in space are unique. Each recognises that these studies are not conducted on rocks, minerals or spectrographic analysis but on living organisms. The use of animals in research is a responsibility and a privilege, one that requires all participants to conduct research in ways that reduce pain and distress, while recognising that the loss of gravity is most likely a stressor. As a way to create a culture of caring for its animal research subjects, NASA has developed bioethical principles for all those individuals who participate in life science research. NASA recognised that, regardless of the importance of the scientific study, the humane treatment and care of the animals involved is equally important. Animals act as surrogates for the human in life science research and as such have a greater moral status. Consequently, each person involved in the research has a greater obligation to provide for their care and to work to minimise any pain and distress that might occur during the research effort. Those who work in life sciences research in the space programmes seem to be continuously aware of these ethical issues.

Animals in Space is an absolutely unique work in the history of science and of space exploration. Several books have been published that outline the essential scientific design of the animal research conducted in space over the last 60 years, since rockets were first invented. This is the first work that summarises the science, the reason for the study, the people and the benefits. It has unified the information that has been published in any number of places into an easy-to-read work that almost makes the reader part of the research team. It personalises the efforts of the research teams; it debunks myths associated with the early space programme; but, most importantly, it tells the truth about the passion and commitment of the individuals involved. It speaks openly of those who opposed the use of animals in research and of those who did not. It describes the practical realities of long periods of research in laboratory spaces far from home, where personnel from many countries worked together to assure the highest quality of science. It does not always capture the fatigue, intensity and angst felt by those working for "mission success''. It cannot capture the total passion and commitment of the research community for knowledge and how that information can benefit humanity. The public needs to understand the deep commitment of the space agencies to astronaut/cosmonaut safety and to recognise the consequences of space flight on the human condition.

Time will tell if we can overcome the barrier of space between the Earth and other worlds. Barriers of distance, heat and cold, lack of atmosphere, lack of gravity, radiation storms, lack of available food and water block the way. In our pursuit of space we have asked animals to involuntarily lead the way and demonstrate safety, risks and hazards that should never be first identified by a human space traveller. This book records the animals' contributions, but, more importantly, it recognises the thousands of scientists, engineers, veterinarians, programme directors and managers, technical staff, administrative personnel, animal care staff, flight support personnel, astronauts and cosmonauts, who have made space an attainable goal in an inhospitable environment.

Chimpanzees named Ham and Enos each flew in a Mercury capsule before Alan Shepard and John Glenn, respectively, to reduce the unknown risks of space. We have learned much since then and need to learn much more if we are to go forward; to the moon with self-sustaining habitats; to Mars and beyond with human exploration. Perhaps, we should always remember the words that began John Glenn's orbital flight around the planet, "Godspeed, John Glenn.'' And ask if it was the briefest of prayers to protect against unknown risks of space, unidentified during Enos's brief flight, or just good wishes to begin a new period of discovery.

NASA, Chief Veterinary Officer, 1996-2001

To those countless unknown and unnamed animals whose lives were sacrificed in paving a safer path for humans to follow into space.

Sam Space Jr., one of a small group of monkeys training for space flight circa 1959 at the USAF School of Aviation Medicine, then located at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. (Photo: USAF National Archives)

Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment