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Remarkably, in his classic 1865 book From the Earth to the Moon, French sciencefiction writer Jules Verne told of a lunar trip successfully undertaken by three men. It was a journey that would have many striking similarities to the first lunar landing by human beings more than a century later.

Verne's three-man spacecraft had been named the Columbiad, while the Apollo 11 spacecraft was called Columbia. The Columbiad craft was fired towards the moon from Florida, prophetically just 120 miles from the present-day Cape Kennedy, and just like Apollo 11 in 1969, it splashed down in the ocean. There are many other amazing similarities: for instance, one of Verne's intrepid explorers had the surname Aldan, while one of the Apollo 11 crewmembers had the surname Aldrin. But unlike Apollo 11, Verne's crew carried along some non-human passengers, as seen in a contemporary wood-cut illustration featuring a pair of cockerels and a small dog, which curiously bears a striking resemblance to yet another small canine that would achieve immortality in 1957 as the first animal ever to orbit the Earth - a dog named Laika. Jules Verne's name for his spacefaring dog was also a most prophetic choice - it was called Satellite.

He may rightfully be regarded as a true doyen of science fiction, but not even a writer as wonderfully imaginative and prophetic as Verne could have conjured up the rich and dramatic history that involved animals and their part in the exploration of space. The unfolding of that great adventure awaited only the appearance of vehicles capable of broaching our atmosphere and the dark, mysterious envelope of space beyond.

Throughout history our unexplored frontiers - jungles, seas, deserts, the North and South Poles - have been conquered by a procession of intrepid explorers. There is, however, one powerfully seductive frontier we have only just begun to penetrate, and it can be found just a few miles from each of us, no matter where we stand on this great planet. It is a vertical frontier, more challenging and hostile than any we have ever faced before. It is space.

A contemporary illustration from Jules Verne's prophetic novel shows the three explorers travelling to the moon aboard their ship Columbiad, accompanied by a small dog named Satellite. (Illustration: U.S. Library of Congress)

Spanning every decade of the 20th century, legions of men and women have climbed ever higher in an unstoppable thirst for knowledge and adventure. The tallest trees, the Tower of Babel, the summit of Mount Everest have all been ascended in that compelling quest to go beyond what we knew before. Balloonists ascended silently into the frigid regions of the upper atmosphere, where the great, gas-filled sphere above them froze to the fragility of paper-thin glass. Post-war aviators pushed their supersonic aircraft to the limits of human and mechanical endurance, clawing their way to heights where no air passed over the wings to create lift: into an unforgiving environment where an aircraft can surrender to the laws of high-altitude nothingness by suddenly tumbling out of control.

Pressurised cabins, breathing masks and high-altitude suits had to be devised and developed that would allow humans to survive in the near vacuum of the upper atmosphere. Barely 11 miles above the Earth's surface, the air pressure is so weak that pilots without suitable protection would be unable to breathe, and their blood would bubble and fizz like uncorked champagne.

It took the impetus of war to advance the technology that finally prepared humankind for the first major assault on the frontier of space. As the Second World War drew inevitably to an end, conquering armies swept in and plundered equipment and personnel from the once-formidable and terrifying German V-2 rocket programme. Having safely landed their valuable charges on American soil, the military quickly despatched dozens of these captured scientists and rocket parts to a remote desert area of the American southwest. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union, working with a more modest share of the V-2 booty and captured German technicians, focused its rocket development efforts on a stark and forbidding outpost named Kapustin Yar, on the empty steppes north of the Caspian Sea.

If mankind's future is defined by the challenges it undertakes, then it began to write a new future in the decades immediately following the war. This remarkable concept of space travel - the future - was happening in two remote parts of the world. Two groups of scientists; two programmes. In both places so much of the focus was on the development of rockets for military use, but some insiders were unambiguously taken with the vision of manned space travel.

In the Soviet Union it might be said, without too much exaggeration, that one man carried the vision of this future, along with the force of will to make it happen: Sergei Korolev. No one burned with the same urgency as Korolev. In the United States the enormous energy, influence, foresight and work of Wernher von Braun is undeniable, but the American effort was not centred quite so much in one man. But, without any doubt, their passionate involvement in rocketry and in creating a human presence in space was an integral part of the vast, rapidly-developing story of astronautics. It was a totally new concept, which captivated people from all nations during the tense Cold War years of what has become known as the Space Race. National and international prestige was at stake, and these two men stood firmly at the helm as an awed and anxious world followed the news of ever-bolder triumphs. In this era of superpower propaganda and political chest-beating, humankind's reach into space was always tempered by the worrisome reality of an accelerating military-space tension, bringing an added urgency to the effort.

Chimpanzees such as this one undergoing psychomotor repetition training at Holloman Air Force Base helped pave the way for early manned space missions. (Photo: USAF, New Mexico Museum of Space History)

Our first fledgling steps on a path to the stars may have unfolded at some of the most inhospitable locations on the planet, the work shrouded in a dark curtain of secrecy, but it was driven by a resolute scramble to identify and overcome each obstacle to that future. And those obstacles and challenges were legion. Until aeronauts and scientists discovered the means to overcome the tremendous pull of gravity and ways to survive in the airless upper atmosphere, humans could not venture very far from the home planet. Ultimately, it came down to a matter of physics and physiology.

The physics problem was simple, if not the solution. It meant increasing the velocity of rockets from around 3,100 miles per hour, the highest speed reached by the V-2 rocket, to nearly 18,000 miles an hour, the velocity required to escape Earth's gravity and travel into orbit.

The physiology problem, on the other hand, was even more daunting. In 1946, when the first launch of a captured V-2 rocket from American soil took place at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, the fastest any human had ever travelled in an aircraft was 606 miles per hour, a record set by RAF Group Captain Hugh Wilson in a Gloster Meteor jet aircraft on 17 November 1945. With little more to go on than basic physics and biology, scientists were not even certain that a person could survive a brief ballistic flight in a rocket, given the crushing force of acceleration and the disorienting period of weightlessness that would follow. Just how would the human body react to these unfamiliar forces and to the malevolent dangers of cosmic radiation that silently waited in the upper atmosphere?

To answer these questions, and to avoid sacrificing would-be astronauts, researchers began looking to the use of warm-blooded animals, whose physiology closely resembled that of humans.

Martine, the first French monkey to fly into space, is shown undergoing flight psychomotor tests in preparation for her historic 1967 mission aboard a Vesta rocket. (Photo: Dr. G. Chatelier, CERMA)
Russian street dogs such as Malyshka were the true pioneers of the Soviet space programme. (Photo: authors' collections)

Animals would prove to be our bridge to the future. They gave substance to the vision. If humans could not yet travel in space, animals could. Their contribution has been profound and continuous. In a biological sense, from 1948 to I960 they were the space programmes. They were writing the future. In a host of laboratory and field tests, in high-altitude balloons and occupying the cramped nose cones of early rockets, animals became the test subjects for the U.S. and Soviet space programmes. To settle questions about acceleration, vibration, noise, radiation exposure, extremes of pressure and temperature, weightlessness and basic survival in sealed capsules, animals stood in for humans. To test the rockets, capsules, parachutes, recovery systems, environmental systems and satellites, animals gave their lives. We saw ourselves, and what we could accomplish, reflected in their successes and failures. Bonds developed between American scientists and the monkeys, and the Soviet scientists and the dogs. It was an incredible collaboration. When dogs and monkeys died, the future seemed more remote; whereas, their accomplishments brought tomorrow to our doorstep.

On 12 April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to rocket into space. This was a truly historic mission, paving the way for other men and women to follow. On his return, Gagarin made a speech in which he acknowledged the contributions of those who made the mission such a success. He specifically mentioned the earlier flight of a small dog named Laika, whose name will be forever remembered in history books as the first creature to make a true space flight.

This book is the story of Laika and other dogs, monkeys, chimpanzees and assorted Earthly creatures whose pioneering flights proved that men and women could be launched with relative safety aboard powerful rockets and survive the harsh environment of space. Many of these biological flights, and particularly that of Laika, brought strong protests from animal lovers around the world. But each of the animals, whether they survived or not, gave us information and experience so desperately needed if we were to leave this planet in our quest for knowledge about our universe and ourselves.

This book is a tribute to Laika and the other animals that pioneered space flight and is gratefully dedicated to their memory.

Laika, prior to her history-making flight. (Photo: authors' collections)

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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.

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