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For final confirmation of the capsule's systems, two more preliminary launches were scheduled, each planned for a single orbit and each carrying a single dog, a large payload of biological specimens and a life-sized mannequin cosmonaut, christened Ivan Ivanovich. The mannequin would be dressed in the same SK-1 pressure suit to be worn by the first cosmonaut.

The first of these flights, Korabl-Sputnik 4, was launched on 9 March 1961, carrying the dog Chernushka, along with 40 black and 40 white mice, guinea pigs, reptiles, human blood samples and cancer cells, plus various micro-organisms and plant seeds. Chernushka was enclosed in a pressurised sphere along with some of the biological experiments, while the mannequin rode in the ejection seat, with other biological specimens stowed in its chest, stomach, thighs and elsewhere.

The single-orbit mission took place without any of the major problems that had troubled many of the earlier flights. On re-entry, the mannequin was ejected for a parachute descent, while the dog descended with the capsule. Once again, snowy weather hampered the recovery. General Nikolai Kamanin and Vladimir Yazdovskiy led the recovery team, which travelled by plane, trucks and finally horseback. When they returned with Chernushka to a nearby village, a huge crowd of farmers and children had gathered to see the dog that had flown in space. Later, Yazdovskiy phoned Moscow with the good news of the safe recovery. The glowing success of the mission gave a much-needed boost to the Vostok programme.

One curious story came out of the Chernushka flight: after the flight, members of Chernushka's recovery team found a wristwatch fastened to her leg. This was unexpected, unauthorized and a mystery, until they noticed the inscription on the back and traced it to its owner, Dr. Abram Genin from the Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine. He told the story of the watch in a 1989 interview conducted by the Smithsonian Institution.

When Genin graduated from the military academy, he had been given a Pobeda watch, the first model produced after the war. He had grown tired of the watch and wanted to get rid of it, but the watch proved to be exceptionally rugged. "I swam in the sea with it, I dropped it on the floor, but it still worked and resisted all abuse.'' Just before the Chernushka flight, Genin fastened the watch to the dog's leg, hoping that he would never see it again. But, following the safe recovery of Chernushka, the watch was traced back to him and he was severely reprimanded because there was a strict inventory of what was allowed to go into space on the flight. Some journalists later made up a story that Genin wanted to check if the watch would work in zero gravity, which was not true, since he knew that it would. He was still wearing the watch at the time of the interview in 1989 [9].

Dress rehearsal for a manned flight

The final rehearsal for a manned flight occurred some 2 weeks later on 25 March, following a virtually identical script. The six key cosmonauts then in training flew to the Baikonur launch site on 17 March for additional training and to view pre-launch preparations. The dog, Zvezdochka (Little Star), and the previously-flown mannequin Ivan Ivanovich, along with a collection of biological specimens, were launched aboard Korabl-Sputnik 5, achieving an orbit similar to that chosen for the imminent manned flight. Aside from the now standard snowstorm at the recovery site that caused a 24-hour delay in the retrieval of the dog, the flight once again came off without problems.

Three days after her flight, Zvezdochka was back in Moscow for a special event. At a press conference at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, she went on display with four other dogs that had flown orbital missions, as well as a litter of Strelka's pups, born the previous November.

Russian Space Dogs Chernushka


Chernushka is given a clean bill of health following her orbital flight in March 1961 authors' collections)


Yuri Gagarin Recovery
Zvezdochka (Little Star) flew the last orbital mission prior to the historic manned flight of Yuri Gagarin. (Photo: authors' collections.)

Although dogs would be called upon for one final record-breaking orbital mission 6 years later, the March press conference brought a close to the space dog programme, which by then had been in operation for 10 years. Nearly four dozen dogs had flown more than three dozen suborbital and orbital flights, with 18 losing their lives. Within 2 weeks of this press conference, the Soviet space programme would achieve its historic goal of placing a human in orbit, when Yuri Gagarin was lofted into space by an R-7 rocket, strapped inside a Vostok capsule. The space age now officially belonged to human beings.

Like their suborbital colleagues, the "satellite dogs'' had performed a critical role leading up to this historic moment. They had established the physiological profile of changes that occur in an organism during launch, re-entry and stays in weightlessness. Their role was also crucial in helping to develop the medical and life-support systems to be used in the first manned spacecraft.


In the early 1960s, following successful manned orbital flights, both the Soviet Union and the United States set their sights on sending a man to the moon, the Soviets with

Soviet Bloc Airlines
Veterans of the orbital dog missions went on display at a March 1961 press conference. Chernushka stands far right and behind her is Belka. Centre rear is Zvezdochka, fresh from her orbital mission. The proud mother, Strelka, sits front left, surrounded by her litter. (Photo: authors' collections.)

Soyuz-derivative spacecraft and the U.S. with its Apollo programme. But, both countries would take an intermediate step with a series of multi-crewed space flights that would help to develop the hardware and procedures required for a moon shot.

The passing of Korolev

From the start, the Soviet Voskhod programme was a risky venture. Aside from pursuing an accelerated schedule to outdo the American Gemini programme for new space records - first multi-crewed flight (Voskhod), first spacewalk (Voskhod 2) -problems arose with the launch vehicle and the capsule's life-support system. In addition, the programme also had to contend with the loss of two individuals critically important to its success.

During the flight of the first Voskhod, launched on 12 October 1964, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev was removed from power. His desire to beat the Americans had been the political engine behind Voskhod. Then a second stroke of misfortune befell the programme. Before Voskhod 2 launched in March 1965, the

Ivan Ivanovich Mannequin
Prepared for their 22-day flight aboard Cosmos 110, Yeterok and Ugolyok have feeding tubes connected directly to their stomachs. The dogs were also presented with food by mouth. (Photo: authors' collections)

guiding light of the Soviet space effort, Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, died unexpectedly at age 59. Korolev's desire to keep a step ahead of the Gemini programme had been an equally strong motivating factor in sustaining Yoskhod.

Despite the loss of these advocates, several Yoskhod missions still remained on the schedule: two would be long-duration flights to study the effects of long-term weightlessness and another which would utilize an all-female crew. The only factor preventing the quick launch of Yoskhod 3 was concern for the performance of the capsule's life-support system. Yoskhod used the same life-support system as the earlier Yostok capsule, which had been designed to support one pilot for up to 10 days. The plan for Yoskhod 3 was to fly two cosmonauts for 18 days.

Twenty-two days in space

Before Cosmos 110 could launch on 22 February 1966 with the dogs Yeterok and Ugolyok, the Soviets scored another stunning first with a soft-landing on the moon. Their Luna 9 probe touched down on 2 February and sent back the first surface images of the moon's barren landscape. Cosmonaut Gherman Titov would later opine to the Associated Press that dogs might visit the moon before humans [10]. But, first on the docket was the 25-day flight of Cosmos 110.

Ugolyok poses inside the container that sustained him while in orbit. (Photo: authors' collections)

The mission's biological payload included bacteria, yeast, blood serum samples, protein growths and Chlorella. Along with the dogs, they would be exposed to extreme levels of radiation as the craft's elliptical orbit took it within the Van Allen radiation belts. As protection, the dogs received anti-radiation medication. Food was delivered both through an automated feeding tray and through tubes directly into their stomachs.

Although the life-support system performed reasonably well, by the 20th day air quality had begun to decline, and a decision was made to terminate the flight.

Returning after 22 days in space, a new duration record, the dogs were in poor health. Dehydration was the most obvious ill effect, the dogs having lost 30% of their body weight. Additionally, the long exposure to weightlessness, as well as the period of restraint, had caused a host of other health problems that alerted scientists to the difficulties astronauts would face during long missions.

By this point, however, the capabilities of the Voskhod's life-support system had become irrelevant. The Voskhod programme had outlived its usefulness, pushed off the agenda by lunar probes and the higher priority of the Soyuz programme. All future Voskhod missions were cancelled.

The realization of the deleterious effects of prolonged stays in weightlessness became the most important finding of this final dog mission. Now that the effects of long-term space flights were being catalogued, on this flight and the American Gemini flights as well, the stage was set for research into how and why these physiological changes occurred.

It was findings such as these that would soon lead to the age of the biosatellite, flying long-duration, orbital missions devoted solely to the study of the effects of space flight on living organisms.


At a time when worldwide attention was focused on the higher-profile rocket flights of animals from Russia and the United States, the French had quietly set about conducting their own series of launches using live test subjects. Although very little has ever been written on the subject, and they did not have the benefit of captured German rocket engineers and scientists, the French nevertheless became the third nation to achieve space power status. They were also the third nation to send animals into space.

Rats and cats and pig-tail monkeys

Earlier balloon flights into the upper atmosphere had tested the effects of cosmic rays on rats and cats; while significant post-war progress in aeronautics and data recording systems had allowed researchers to obtain a better understanding of human physiology and dynamic stresses on pilots in the air. Drawing their inspiration from related experiments in the United States and the Soviet Union, French scientists became increasingly interested in the effects of weightlessness and cosmic radiation, seeking a better understanding of the impact these and other issues might have on warm-blooded creatures before human beings could venture into space.

In 1949, construction began on a new missile launch centre located in the Sahara Desert in southwestern Algeria, then a French colony. It was built at a remote site known as Hammaguir, 75 miles to the southwest of Colomb-Bechar and near the border with Morocco. This area provided the vital prerequisites of isolation and solitude, not just from a security aspect but in the possible event of booster failures after lift-off, which would litter the skies and surrounding area with hazardous debris.

The CIEES (Inter-arms Special Weapons Test Centre) launch facility site would become operational the following year. Eventually, four launch bases were established at Hammaguir, named Blandine, Bacchus, Beatrice and Brigitte [11].

Also in 1949, the French directorate for the study and manufacture of armaments (DEFA) proposed the construction of a new liquid-fuelled sounding rocket that would permit relatively inexpensive studies of the upper atmosphere. Originally known as Project 4213, the 20-foot rocket was developed at Vernon in northern France and given the series name Veronique (VERnon electrONIQUE).

The Veronique rockets

Initially, Veronique sounding rockets developed sufficient thrust to send a 130-pound payload to an altitude of around 40 miles. They were fuelled by nitric acid and kerosene, although later in the rocket's 9-year development turpentine would replace kerosene in the fuel mix [12].

Following test-firings at other ranges beginning in 1950, the first full-scale Veronique-N launch took place on 20 May 1952, with the rocket successfully reaching its intended altitude.

In all, eleven Veronique-N launches were carried out at Hammaguir over the following year in three series of test-firings, but several failed due to instability problems. Project scientists were also unhappy with the relatively low height the rocket could attain. The solution was easily remedied by lengthening the fuel tank to achieve additional burn time (which also increased the length of the rocket), allowing the rockets to reach altitudes of around 85 miles. Further tests of the modified NA version were successfully carried out between February and October 1954 [13].

For the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58 (known in France by the acronym AGI), the French National Defence Scientific Action Committee provided funding for the manufacture of 15 Veronique AGI-series upper-atmosphere sounding rockets, specifically dedicated to biological studies. Eventually seven of these would carry live animals.

Establishing CERMA

On 6 January 1945 the Centre d'Etudes de Biologie (CEBA) was established in Paris, with Robert Grandpierre serving as the centre's first director. He would set up research departments to undertake fundamental research on hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) at high altitude, and his teams would make significant progress. Ten years later, CEBA would merge with the Section Medico-Physiologique de l'Armee de l'Air (SMPAA) to create the Centre d'Enseignement et de Recherches de Medecine Aeronautique, or CERMA. Robert Grandpierre would also serve as the director of CERMA until October 1963.

When CERMA officially commenced operations in 1955, French scientists were forced to conduct experiments on weightlessness in laboratories. They did not have the luxury of suitable aircraft or rockets at their disposal, but - with the development

Electrode Rat
Wistar rat with an electrode surgically affixed to its skull. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

of the Veronique sounding rocket and the creation of the Comite des Recherches Spatiales in January 1959 - new research opportunities opened up to them.

The following year, Grandpierre learned of experiments on the semi-circular canals of the inner ear being carried out by Belgian scientist Paul Ledoux. Ledoux had been successful in recording the electrical activity of the vestibular nerve of a frog undergoing rotational stimulation, and Grandpierre was fascinated by this research. He proposed to CERMA's department of sensory physiology that they undertake studies of the vestibular nerve in zero gravity, which would require the use of a research rocket able to offer up to 6 minutes of weightlessness.

Under the leadership of Dr. Gerard Chatelier, an eminently skilled surgeon, these experiments would provide the foundation of the French space biology programme [14]. Initially, following on Ledoux's work, frogs were used in laboratory experiments; however, because it was difficult to attach electrodes to the skin of the amphibians, rats were substituted. In November 1959, after several lengthy but unsuccessful attempts, Dr. Chatelier was able to surgically affix electrodes to the skull of a rat, enabling the activity of the brain cortex and reticular formation to be recorded. At the same time, other probes monitored the activity of the diaphragm muscle and recorded the electromyographic activity of the muscles at the nape of the neck, as well as the animal's heart rate, respiratory frequency and body temperature. Consideration could now be given to sending one of these rats into a truly weightless environment.

The French Veronique rocket was far less powerful than the V-2 and its American and Soviet variants that could hoist dogs and monkeys into the upper atmosphere, so the use of larger animals had already been ruled out. Under the auspices of CERMA, 47 white Wistar rats were selected for initial tests in Paris.


Neurophysiology tests required that each of the animals be prepared and trained well in advance of any rocket flight, which meant becoming accustomed to carrying out daily activities with electrodes surgically implanted into their craniums. The period in which each rodent could subsequently be used in the experiments was limited to between 3 and 6 months, due to the progressive polarisation of the intracranial electrodes, the aging of the rodent and necroses of the skull caused by the use of model glue in fixing the connectors [11].

Training for the rocket flight included painlessly hanging each rat by its tail inside immobilisation containers for incrementally lengthy periods. They would also be whirled around in centrifuge devices, exposing them to different accelerations and vibrations. A miniature amplifier was also developed to provide a simulated launch sound environment. Meanwhile a suitable sealed container was being developed that would be compatible with the Veronique's nose cone.


The first launch with a subject rat on board was scheduled for 20 February. There was a degree of trepidation about this launch, as a Veronique had exploded during the launch phase just 2 days earlier. Then, while the biological nose cone was being mated to the rocket, it was found that the rat had somehow managed to gnaw through the braided covering of recording wires in his container. The launch was pushed back to 22 February so repairs could be made and the wires repositioned. The disgraced rat was subsequently replaced, and a backup selected from the 10 who had been transported from Paris to Hammaguir.

Prior to launch, the selected rodent was fitted out in an adjustable linen vest resembling a tiny spacesuit that it had become accustomed to wearing during the training period. It was then inserted into a wide tube inside the custom-built container, suspended in the very centre by four metal hooks attached to the vest at one end and the walls of the tube at the other [15].

The installation of the biological container into the rocket's nose cone was carried out 40 minutes before lift-off. The flight plan had been carefully manifested, and like earlier Veronique firings was tentatively scheduled for 8: 00 a.m. The countdown had begun 4 hours before the planned launch time.

Veronique AGI24 lifted off right on schedule from Launch Complex Blandine, but the rocket's engine fired for only 25 seconds, and the thrust was much lower than expected. As a result it only reached an altitude of 69 miles - less than half the desired

A programme begins with Hector 223

A programme begins with Hector 223

Hector Und Felicette Weltall

Staged photograph showing the vests used by the cats and rats in the French biological rocket flights. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

Hector Space Rat

Hector the French rat is inserted into the nose cone prior to his Veronique rocket flight. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

Veronique French Rocket
Commander Brice, an engineer, and Dr. Chatelier (right) recover Hector from the nose cone of the Veronique rocket. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

apogee. The rocket was unstable during the ascent, which resulted in a degree of pitching and rolling. Despite these problems all the recording instruments worked well, and data were collected throughout the brief journey.

Eight minutes and 10 seconds after lift-off and 28 miles from the launch pad, a parachute brought the payload back to the ground. It was safely recovered by one of two Lark helicopters at 8:40 a.m. When the capsule was opened by members of the CERMA team, they found the occupant alive and in good condition. Transported back to the Paris laboratory, the animal was kept under observation until 30 June. News of the flight was widely reported in France, and the rat was even dubbed "Hector" by the media. Some time later he achieved a further measure of fame as the namesake for a European cartoon series, "Hector the Space Rat''.

Six months after his space flight, Hector was euthanised in order to study the possible effects of weightlessness on the implanted electrodes.

It would be 20 months before the next launch involving a second Wistar rat named Castor (called Beaver in some histories), who enjoyed the luxury of a back-up rodent named Pollux - the name of the other twin in the Gemini star constellation. Planned for 15 October 1962, the launch was delayed past the scheduled time due to high winds at the pad and minor technical problems.

Lift-off eventually took place at 9: 39 a.m., with Veronique AGI37 achieving a peak altitude of 75 miles, although it strayed off course and travelled more than 37 miles beyond the expected recovery zone. A breakdown of VHF communications with the pilot of the prime recovery helicopter meant that the rocket's nose cone was not recovered until 75 minutes after launch. Meanwhile the rodent's container had been exposed to the intense ferocity of the desert sun, and he later died of heat prostration. Telemetry from the flight had been quite solid for the first 3 minutes of the ballistic journey, after which it was lost; although it is believed Castor travelled through a 6-minute period of weightlessness.

Pollux takes to the skies

Just 3 days later it was the turn of the second rat Pollux to be dangled from four wires attached to his vest in the biological canister and loaded aboard Veronique AGI36. Once again minor technical problems delayed the launch, which finally took place at 9: 31 a.m. Unfortunately, the premature release of one of four guidance system cables connected to the end of its fins sent the Veronique on a wayward trajectory. The separation process itself was flawless, but the nose cone was well off course and finally touched down 88 miles from the launch centre. Two helicopters were immediately despatched to the recovery area, but to everyone's frustration they were unable to locate the nose cone containing Pollux or retrieve the instrumentation.

Once again, telemetry had been received for the first 135 seconds of the flight, before the signals were lost. Even though the altitude of the rocket's flight is recorded as 69 miles, the shallow trajectory could mean it was in fact significantly less, and the rodent may not have even experienced true weightlessness, especially if the spacecraft was spinning and otherwise unstable [11].


In 1961, President Charles De Gaulle decided it would be advantageous to amalgamate a number of space-related authorities, thus creating the Centre National

Ciees Hammaguir

Veronique AGI36 prior to launch. (Photo:

courtesy Dr. G.

Chatelier, CERMA)

Veronique AGI36 prior to launch. (Photo:

courtesy Dr. G.

Chatelier, CERMA)

d'Études Spatiales, or CNES. The following year, CNES issued a works order for an upgraded and far more powerful version of the Veronique, to be known as Vesta. This proposed rocket, 33 feet in length and 3 feet in diameter, would be capable of catapulting a far greater payload to an altitude in the vicinity of 250 miles.

Despite the loss of two of three rats, it was decided that the animal flight programme using Veronique rockets would continue while the Vesta was undergoing development. With space-saving improvements made in the biological capsule, Robert Grandpierre decided that cats could now be selected to ride the rockets.

Safe recovery

On 18 October 1963, exactly 1 year after the launch and loss of the unfortunate Pollux, a cat named Felicette was recovered following a successful flight into the very fringes of space. The female black-and-white stray was said to have been rescued from the streets of Paris by a pet dealer and later purchased by the French government as one of 14 candidates for a flight in the nose of a Yeronique.

As part of their training each of the 14 cats spent time enclosed in noise boxes, allowing project scientists to assess each animal's reaction to a variety of sounds they might hear during a launch. The cats spent some time in a compression chamber and were also strapped into the cabin of a centrifuge which whirled them around at high speed to determine their tolerance to high g-forces.

Felicette came through these ordeals without suffering undue stress, despite earlier having a series of electrodes surgically implanted in her skull and brain during a 10-hour operation. The electrophysiological recordings would be far more comprehensive than those achievable with the smaller rats, taking in data on the left and left associative cortex, the right hippocampus (the part of the brain located in the temporal lobe) and the mesencephalic tissue [14].

Housed in a special biological container in the rocket's nose cone, Felicette was sent aloft from Hammaguir on her suborbital flight aboard Yeronique AGI47 at 8: 09 a.m. The rocket and its nose cone were explosively separated right on schedule, and the nose cone continued to penetrate the ionosphere with the impetus provided by the booster. The cat had been subjected to a force of 9.5 g's during the ascent. Having achieved a record height for the programme of 97 miles, Felicette became the first -and perhaps only - cat to experience the weightlessness of space.

Soon after, the capsule was plummeting back to Earth. Five minutes and 2 seconds after the descent had begun, the nose cone's fall was slowed when the braking parachutes deployed. The g forces acting on the cat fluctuated noticeably during the next stage of the controlled descent, peaking at around 7 g's before the main parachute blossomed. The capsule landed safely, and just 13 minutes after the launch a helicopter with the CERMA recovery team aboard touched down alongside. Felicette was recovered from the capsule without incident.

In days when most spaceflight milestones made for good headlines, the British press quickly dubbed the flight an outstanding achievement. However, the accompanying photographs of Felicette with electrodes surgically fitted to her head like a

Felicette Cat
A candidate strapped into the restraining apparatus that would be used on the rocket flight. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

bellboy's skullcap were far from appealing to many readers, especially to those involved in the burgeoning animal rights movement.

A second cat, whose name has never been released, flew an encore mission aboard Veronique AGI50 six days later on 24 October. This time things definitely did not go to plan. On ascent the rocket became badly unstable and veered off course, staggering to a height of just 55 miles before exploding and plunging back to ground, crashing 75 miles from the launch site. An extensive helicopter search ensued and the nose cone was finally located 2 days later, together with the body of the anonymous cat.

There would be no more feline flights by any nation - unless the Chinese, in their notoriously clandestine way, placed a cat aboard one of their research rockets. In all probability, however, Felicette is the only cat ever to have successfully flown into space.


Following these biological flights using cat subjects, Grandpierre was finally given access to two of the more powerful Vesta rockets, which offered a much larger volume within the nose cone. This encouraged the CERMA team to consider the use of primates in their next series of flights.

Felicette Space Cat

French space cat Felicette with implanted skull electrode. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

Selecting the candidates

Dr. Chatelier was given the task of selecting suitable candidates, and after exploring several possibilities he settled on female pig-tailed monkeys of the Macaca nemestrina species, which were both compact in size and docile by nature.

Members of this species are readily distinguishable by a short, 7-inch curled tail which they carry half-erect over their hindquarters - a unique characteristic and the genesis of their common identifying name. Mostly inhabiting the remaining jungle areas of Malaya, Sumatra and Borneo, these rare monkeys are calmer and more soundly oriented than other Macaca species such as the rhesus monkey. They also form strong bonds with their owners, and in some remote jungle habitations have been trained to climb coconut trees, twist off the fruit with their strong hands and throw it to the ground.

It would take several months to properly train the monkeys in Paris and prepare special suits for them to wear on their flights. Eventually, one was manufactured that would fasten the animal to its seat but also allow relative freedom of arm movement, which was needed for one of the planned experiments that would assess its consciousness and motor precision while in weightlessness. For this part of their training, the monkey candidates were secured in front of a panel which featured a small joystick.

Monkey Electrodes Implanted
As with the earlier animals, the monkey candidates had electrodes surgically implanted into their skulls. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

When a light came on, the animal had to pull the joystick to be rewarded with a small food pellet. As the training intensified two more joysticks were added to make the task more complex, and finally five were mounted on the panel in a cross-like formation which the monkey had to pull in sequence.

Ten of the best-performing animals were transported from Paris to Hammaguir, where a final series of tests identified the two most suitable candidates, and they were prepared for the flight.

Martine lifts off

On 7 March 1967, all was in readiness to send the first of these monkeys, named Martine, on her journey into space aboard Vesta 04. Lift-off was scheduled for

Robert Grandpierre

Robert Grandpierre (left) and Professor Arlette Rougeul-Buser inspect the Vesta 04 nose cone. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

6: 30 a.m., but once again technical issues delayed the launch until 10: 04. In accordance with the flight plan, the rocket's engine continued to burn until it reached an altitude of 22 miles just under a minute after leaving the pad, briefly subjecting Martine to acceleration forces reaching 10 g's. Residual impetus kept the Vesta shooting even farther into the skies. At an altitude of 69 miles and 100 seconds into the flight, the nose cone separated from the carrier rocket and continued to climb in the near-vacuum. Some 41 minutes into the flight, the capsule reached a peak apogee of 142 miles and began a quickly-accelerating descent back to Earth. At 2.7 miles from the ground, with the nose cone plummeting downwards at 31 feet per second, the drogue chute deployed, followed soon after by the main parachute. The capsule touched down at 10: 57 a.m., 15| minutes after lift-off. Martine was recovered without problem, and a later flight report stated she "recuperated quickly and was in perfect health'' [11].

Despite a few technical problems, it had been a good test of the rocket and its systems. Although the temperature in the monkey's capsule had risen from 25 to 33°C during the flight, thermostatically-controlled ventilation fans had begun operating, and Martine displayed no ill effects from the heat. Television cameras captured the monkey sitting strapped in her couch carrying out the trained task of pulling the small

Ciees Hammaguir

HHi mmm

Yesta 04 carries Martine into the sky, 7 March 1967. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

Martine is successfully recovered safe and well after her space flight. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

Dr. Chatelier photographed with Martine while the monkey was still recuperating from her flight. (Photo: courtesy Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)

joysticks each time a light blinked in front of her. Excellent telemetry had been recorded right up to 3 minutes before landing, the recorders and camera had worked well, and all other onboard systems had functioned as planned.

Another Vesta rocket was launched just 6 days later on 13 March with a second female monkey named Pierrette (Pebble). Planned for 7: 30 a.m., the launch was also delayed, this time for 3 hours. It proved to be a totally successful mission, reaching 146 miles above the Earth, and the monkey was recovered in good physical shape. As before, all data recordings gathered by telemetry or onboard equipment were of superb quality.

Although three animals had been killed on flights through rocket malfunctions, an impressive amount of data had been collected and recorded, particularly neurological information relating to the electrical activity of the brain.

Following the Vesta flights, Robert Grandpierre left CERMA and took another position in Bordeaux. On 1 July 1967, the Hammaguir launch site would be abandoned and turned over to Algeria under an agreement ratified in 1962. A newer, far larger launch facility would then be established amid the tropical forests at Kourou, in French Guiana, South America.

Although further biological flights had been discussed by Grandpierre's colleagues and successors, these plans never came to fruition. The French programme of biological rocket flights was subsequently abandoned, apart from those later carried out in cooperation with the Russians and Americans, under the auspices of the CNES.


Even Poland flirted with the use of living specimens on rocket research flights. On 10 April 1961, just 2 days before Yuri Gagarin's history-making flight, two launches of somewhat less magnitude and global significance took place in the remote Bledowska Desert, midway between Krakow and Czestochowa in the country's south.

Known as the "Polish Sahara'', and still the largest in the European complex of post-glacial dunes, the Bledowska Desert is rapidly diminishing under the vigorous encroachment of vegetation and a growing population. The area had once provided Field Marshall Erwin Rommel with a suitable training ground for his Panzer units, simulating the conditions they would encounter in North Africa. Today, the area where Polish rockets first took to the skies looks increasingly less like a traditional desert and more like a steppe, and is barely twenty square miles in area - a fifth of its size early last century.

Biological studies on mice

Standing just 57 inches tall and with a girth of just over 3j inches, the RM series of rockets may not have been overly imposing, but they would prove to be useful research vehicles. Developed both as a test of missile technology and a demonstration vehicle for later meteorological RASKO and Meteor rockets, they would eventually reach altitudes of around 62 miles.

The first test firings of the RM-2 were carried out on 7 September 1959 under the supervision of meteorologist Professor Jacek Walczewski, then head of the Polish rocket program. The following month a basic test postal payload was carried aboard the RM-2P rocket. In December 1960 the launch of RM-1A failed when the motor burst on ignition, but a second that month, using RM-2B, was apparently successful.

It was then decided to carry out some stomatological research (the science dealing with diseases of the mouth) using mice for biological studies. The principal researchers were Drs. Eugeniusz Gwizdek and Boguslaw Horodyski from the Krakow Medical Academy, who would later publish the results in a Polish medical journal.

Outer protection Acoustic isolation

Upper shock absorber

Mouse container

Lower shock absorber



Polish meteorological research rocket

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