It’s been 70 years since animals have been sent to space. However, the biological questions we need to answer by having an animal space odyssey are different today from what they were 70 years ago.
It all started in 1957. A dog called Laika became the first animal to see the Earth from above. Its mission was to survive in space. At that time, scientists had no idea whether human beings could sustain space exploration, even for a few hours.
Scientists also wanted to see if humans could digest food in space conditions.
Laika – The Space Dog
Although Laika died during the space flight, it along with other animals helped answer the question of what happens to the human body in space.
Ham the chimpanzee was the first animal to return safely home after a space trip. The story went viral in 1961.
Sending animals in space paved the way for humans to be safely sent to space. There have been countless experiments in zero gravity, which could not otherwise have been replicated on Earth.
Today, animal tests are meant to help us get closer to a Mars expedition.
Some of the animals sent to space by the Soviet and American space programs were mice, monkeys, rats, dogs and a rabbit.
So far, animals have shown many strange properties in space and have been part of a host of special experiments.
When spiders were finally put into orbit in 1973, they started spinning webs for 59 days. At first, the webs were sloppy but gradually became identical to typical spider webs on Earth.
Frog eggs eventually successfully hatched into tadpoles, despite zero gravity, in 1988.
But some animals got new features or got rid of unnecessary Earth features. For example, in the absence of gravity crickets did not develop organs to help them achieve balance. The organs are similar to a human’s inner ear. On Earth, all crickets develop such organs so this was an interesting evolutionary turnout in space.
Strange Things Happen In Zero Gravity
Even human balance perception changes in space. For example, when a ball is in mid-air, rolling towards us, our muscles flex to anticipate catching. That’s all fine and dandy on Earth.
But in space, the same ball in zero gravity comes towards the astronaut at much lower speeds. But the muscles still flex. This shows that the brain is somehow wired to deal with gravity.
These experiments sound and perhaps look funny, but they help medical advancement and ultimately, the human race.
Some experiments have applications in the osteoporosis treatment field, while others show us how we can better cope with radiation and, ultimately minimize the effects of radiotherapy in cancers.
As the animal and human space exploration becomes more complex, science is starting to aim towards Mars. The role of animals and humans will evolve, enabling NASA to invest more money in ambitious endeavors, like Moon bases or missions to Mars.
Private companies will play an increasing role in the space odyssey, too, as NASA is starting to see Low Earth Orbit more like a business opportunity, than a dangerous realm.
Image Source – Wikipedia