Fig 1. STS 132 –May 14, 2010. Launch pad 39 Cape Kennedy. Source URL: http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/458841main_2010-3416.jpg

(Retrieved 6-28-2013).

So it has been more than 50 years since the Sputnik launch—there have been both milestones and setbacks. And, if we can take one thing and put it in our proverbial books of wisdom—it would be to learn how to continually better ourselves. However, each subsequent generation seemingly experiences identical growing pains that the previous generation experienced. These growing pains may be summed in the following pithy aphorism—failing to learn the mistakes of history forces one to repeat similar mistakes ad nauseum. Life, in general, seems cyclical whenever the subsequent generation does not successfully learn from previous generation.

Fig 2. Some Medical Objectives of Skylab Mission and their interrelationships, a briefing chart used at NASA Headquarters In 1971. ML7 1-5271

Source URL: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4208/ch8.htm (Retrieved 6-28-2013).


The way to the stars is paved with a lot of growth and no one “seems” to like the pain associated with the eventual golden opportunities of space. Quite a few sacrifices have been given to the citizens of the world—and here is one that bears mention: Biosatellite program of the late 1960s.

I happened to find mention of the program during my research for the post—and it is both important and (definitely) heartbreaking for animal lovers. As most of us know—the first life into space were animals. And, the early days of manned-space flight were indicative that our evolution had not prepared us for our aspirations. Exploration of other planets and a permanence in the Solar System required different thinking. [The problems which “man” would have encountered on a trip to Mars (circa 1975) would have made the Challenger and Columbia disasters look like a day at the local playground by current standards. As an illustration of just one possible problem in low-gravity (the perception of tumbling motion)—I draw upon Neil Armstrong’s account of this “emergency” during Gemini VIII (8) –not Apollo. During the first docking maneuver ever performed—an engine (of Gemini VIII) continuously (miss)-fired and sent the capsules “rolling and yawing.” Armstrong reportedly described not possessing the ability to find the appropriate controls that (normally) were in his field of vision. At Mission Control—his pulse recorded 156 and his reflexes could not respond to the rolling and yawing motion of the capsule.] The physiological mechanisms of Armstrong’s responses are a complex set of neurological patterns that have been hard-wired for our Earthly benefit. I believe the description of Biosatellite program (satellite number 3) that follows below is a chilling reminder of just a “smattering of what awaits the un-prepared.”


The preliminary findings were published in the journal Science. A healthy macaque monkey was trained for a 30 day orbit of Earth. There were only two specific tasks which were duly rewarded with food: (1) “a delayed matching of symbols (DM task) and (2) a test of eye/hand coordination of two rapidly rotating objects (VM task).” The macaque performed them flawlessly pre-flight—but the monkey failed ‘miserably’ once the satellite was off the ground. The macaque did manage to eat almost continuously while in orbit—and the monkey show to be fairly alert for the most part until day 8. On that day the macaque displayed the a marked slowing of heart rate, a slowing of brain waves similar to sleep (while still awake), a sharp drop in blood pressure, and a fall in brain temperature—all indicative of a comatose state. The experiment was halted and the capsule commenced “re-entry.” Recovery operations were promising at first— Within the twelve hours of recovery, the macaque showed signs of a “want” to amble (walk like his fellow monkeys) but the effects of the flight were too severe. The macaque perished soon afterward.

Autopsy results showed little—but all the data from the flight were indicative of an extreme response due to weightlessness. The macaque had been restrained in a “sitting position” throughout the flight—to make matters even more revealing.


We long for the stars—why? Perhaps it is our true destiny. However, as the trail-blazing experiments show, we as a species have more to overcome than meets the eye at first blush.


Gemini http://www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/history/gemini/gemini-8/gemini8.htm

Skylab http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4208/ch8.htm

Adey, W. R. et.al. (1969). Biosatellite III: Preliminary Findings, Science. 166, 492-493.

Wagner, B. M. (1971). Beyond the moon some problems in space medicine, Journal of Clinical Pathology. 24, 289–294.


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