Pre-Sputnik Cooperative Biological Experimentation

Following World War II, limited biological experiments had been carried out by military and university scientists. Tests had covered such factors as the effects of radiation upon living organisms and the behavior of animals in the absence of gravitational forces. The first of these experiments was undertaken with captured V-2 rockets at Holloman Air Base, N. Mex. In 1946-47, Harvard biologists, in cooperation with scientists from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, recovered seeds and fruit flies after flights at altitudes up to 160 km. This group was joined in 1948 by Dr. James P. Henry of the U.S. Air Force, and during the next few years successful flights were launched with mice and monkeys as passengers.22

In June 1948 the first American primate, Albert I, was launched in a V-2 rocket from White Sands, N. Mex., but it died of suffocation. A year later, on June 14, a second anesthetized monkey Albert II, was sent aloft in the same V-2 vehicle. That monkey survived the flight but was killed on impact. On September 16 a third monkey was killed when the rocket exploded at 35,000 feet. In December 1949, a fourth monkey was flown, with data on ECG and respiration successfully telemetered, but the monkey died on impact. A mouse sent aloft on October 31 was not recovered alive, although pictures were made of its behavior in a weightless state.

Aerobee rockets also were used. On April 18,1951, Henry and his group sent aloft an anesthetized monkey and several mice. The animals were not recovered because of parachute failure. An anesthetized monkey and 11 mice sent aloft in an Aerobee rocket on September 20, 1951, were all recovered alive, although the monkey died 2 hours after impact. These mice became the first known living creatures to survive actual space-flight, conditions. The following May, two anesthetized monkeys, Pat and Mike, together with two mice, were flown to a 62-km altitude. Pat and Mike were the first primates to survive actual space-flight conditions.23 By 1952 the supply of V-2 rockets was exhausted, and biological experiments in rockets and missiles came to a halt for the next 6 years.

Paralleling these activities since 1950 were biological experiments carried out in unmanned balloon flights. On September 8, 1950, the U.S. Air Force sent white mice aloft in an "Albert" capsule to a height of 47,000 feet. They were recovered dead because of capsule depressurization and leakage 7 hours after launch. On the 28th of that month, white mice were sent aloft to 97,000 feet and recovered unharmed after 3 hours 40 minutes. On January 18, 1951, an "Albert" capsule containing mice went aloft. It was recovered after 2 hours, the balloon having burst at 45,000 feet. The following August, hamsters were sent aloft to 59,000 feet in a Minnesota capsule, but again there was a balloon failure. Data on this flight are lacking.24 These experiments culminate ultimately in the Man-High experiments, in which a human subject was lifted aloft on the eve of Sputnik. These pioneering efforts were of limited value, but they laid the groundwork for biological experimentation prior to high-altitude manned flight and space flight.

Also important during this decade was the development of the X-12, X-15, 25 and Dyna-Soar programs, all concerned with testing human factors and all providing basic knowledge upon which the first U.S. space program would be built.


22.  Dietrich E. Beischer and Alfred R. Fregly, Animals and Man in Space, A Chronology and Annotated Bibliography Through tile Year 1960, ONR Rep. ACR-64 (USNSAM Monograph 5), Dept. of the Navy, p. 53. See particularly pp. 55-90 for charts and a bibliography of animal biological experiments through 1960.

23.  Ibid., pp. 56-57. See also Note 16.

24.  During the next 10 years more than 50 experiments were performed by investigators including D. G. Simons, J. P. Stapp, and others. Subjects included hamsters, cats, dogs, black and white mice, fruit flies, goldfish, seeds, chicken eggs, and human skin. More than 80 experiments of this type were carried out in all. Beischer and Fregly, op. cit., pp.13-30

25.  See Wendell H. Stillwell, X-15 Research Results With a Selected Bibliography, NASA SP-60, 1965.

 
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