Animal Studies

Doctor Oleg Gazenko

At a1961 meeting of space medical scientists in Florence, Italy I had the pleasure of meeting Doctor Gazenko, the most prominent man in Soviet aerospace medicine at that time.
The twinkle in his eyes indicated he was well aware of my intelligence affiliation but we exchanged gifts then and became friends. For years thereafter I received from him a colorful and most welcome St. Nicolas card at Christmas. I was a USAF research scientist then, stationed at the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, close to our Foreign Technology Division. One of my jobs was the analysis of Soviet Bioastronautics.

In October 1957 The world was stunned when Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite of Earth, was launched by the Soviet Union. Just one month later, on 2 November, 1957, the world again was startled to learn that the Soviets had launched Sputnik 2 placing Laika, a fully bio-instrumented dog, into Earth orbit.

The use of dogs in their space-flight research would become routine for the Soviets in contrast with the use of monkeys and chimpanzees by the United States. Dogs were more docile, predictable and easier to restrain, according to the Soviets. Laika had two electocardiographic leads, one recorded horizontally, from the right to the left axilla. The other recorded vertically, from the manubrium of the sternum to the xyphoid process, sites selected to be relatively free from motion artifact.
The silver wire leads were sewn directly into the skin over these areas to obtain reliable contact. Laika's respirations were monitored by carbon impregnated rubber tubing placed around the chest. Blood pressure was monitored by the ingenious exteriorized carotid artery technique especially well suited to the long canine neck. A bladder encased in a small metal cylinder was placed around the artery and periodically inflated and deflated. A tiny crystal recorded the pulsations.
The technique was comparable to your doctor taking a blood pressure from your arm and far more accurate. The Soviets avoided invasive procedures as much as possible and were to use this general pattern of bio-instrumentation for all of their canine space missions. I reviewed the electrocardiograms and respiration traces telemetered back to Earth from Sputnik 2 and can confirm Laika was functioning normally at least through the first day and perhaps longer. The Soviets claimed recovery was not intended and that Laika lived until environmental support was exhausted.

Belka and Strelka
Two more dogs, Belka and Strelka, were placed in orbit by the Soviets on 19 August 1960 and successfully recovered after seventeen orbits. Of special interest is the fact that one of Strelka puppies later would be presented by Khrushev to President Kennedy as a very gracious but bitter-sweet gift symbolizing the Soviet's technological lead. Their bio-instrumentation was very similar to that of Laika giving Soviet space medical scientists additional information about the ability of the body to adapt to long term zero gravity.
During this period the Soviets enhanced their monitoring to include electro-oculograms (EOGs) to study random eye movement and sleep patterns easily obtained by a pair of electrodes placed at the outer canthus of each eye, the EOG was to be used throughout their early manned program as well. Another innovation introduced early on and continued throughout the early manned phase of space flight was their use of the pericardial vibro-cardiogram. This device monitored low frequency (2 to 5 cps) vibrations over the sternum produced by the pumping action of the heart and would have it's greatest utility in the zero gravity conditions of space flight.

Pchelka and Mushka
These two dogs were placed in orbit 1 December 1960 but perished after seventeen orbits when the retro-fire system failed to function properly. The bio-instrumentation and telemetry was similar to the previous flight giving the Soviets even more information about prolonged weightlessness effects.

Chernushka and Zvezdochka
Chernushka successfully completed a one orbit mission on 9 March 1961, followed by a repeat performance by Zvezdochka on 25 March. Both flights contained a dummy cosmonaut and paved the way for Gagarin's one orbit flight two weeks later. With the addition of these two canine flights, Soviet scientists now had accumulated vitally useful biomedical data throughout more than fifty orbits of space flight. At the time of the Gagarin flight, the experience of the United States with prolonged weightlessness was essentially zero. Until our Glenn flight of 20 February 1962 all our biomedical data had come from sub-orbital shots, each giving a meager five to nine minutes of weightlessness exposure.

Cosmos Biosatellite Studies
Soviet space medical research included far more than dogs in their studies. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice were subject to prolonged space flight in their Cosmos series of satellites. (Occasionally these animals were added to the dog flights.)
Additionally, a number of other biological specimens were used including C. Albicans (common yeast), E. Coli (the well-known bacteria) and the growing tips of the plant, Tradescantia Paludosa, commonly known as wandering Jew. Using these many varieties of life forms, comprehensive studies of space flight effects were done over a period of years with the results telemetered back to Earth.

The Soviet biosatellite program was well-conceived and executed with few, if any, flaws. I learned to have a great deal of respect for the management structure responsible for this accomplishment. Doctor Oleg Gazenko and others like him should be proud.

Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor


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