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Russia and Life Science

The USSR was the first space-faring power, and, not surprisingly, orbited the world's first biosatellite. Sputnik 2, launched less than a month after its world-shocking predecessor, contained a female dog named Laika in an instrumented and pressurized chamber. Launched 3 November 1957, Sputnik 2 returned biological, movement, and sound data on Laika until the environmental control system would no longer sustain her. Fourteen dogs and one rabbit had previously been launched during Soviet vertical rocket tests, and numerous dogs other small animals and insects were later orbited during the early years of the Soviet space program (Reference 25).

The largest effort in the life sciences on the part of the Russian Federation is the Bion, or Biokosmos, program, managed by the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow. Bion is an ongoing program that has orbited ten satellites since 1973. Unlike Sputnik 2, all Bion satellites have been recovered after reentry, though some minor casualties have occurred in the program. Participation in Bion is truly international, with countries other than the former Soviet Union participating in all but the first mission and with the US participating in the eight missions since 1975.

All Bion missions have used a modified Vostok recoverable capsule. This vehicle is a derivative of the spacecraft used by Yuri Gagarin on his historic orbital flight in 1961. Similar Vostok-derived craft still in use include the Photon microgravity/materials research satellites and the Resurs-F Earth environment/resource monitoring systems, produced by the Samara Specialized Design Bureau. The Bion experiment (reentry) chamber is a 2.3 m diameter sphere with two 1.2 m access hatches. The scientific payload is about 1,000 kg, while the overall spacecraft mass is about six metric tons. All Bion missions have been launched by Soyuz launch vehicles from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome (Reference 26).

Throughout the history of the Bion program, several notable and sometimes humorous incidents have occurred. The mission of Bion 3 (Kosmos 782) was cut short because of threatening snowstorms in the intended satellite recovery area. Soviet scientists reported "wintry" conditions during recovery and were forced to erect shelters at the landing site. Yerosha, one of the monkeys on Bion 8 (Kosmos 1887) partially freed himself and explored his orbital cage, much to mission controllers' dismay and the popular media's delight. On reentry, Bion 8 then missed its intended touchdown point by about 3,000 km, causing the demise of several fish in frigid weather. Bion 9 (Kosmos 2044) experienced temperature control problems three days before reentry, killing some ants and earthworms that were part of a school project (References 27-32).

The Bion 10 satellite (Kosmos 2229), launched 29 December 1992, was scheduled to orbit for 14 days before reentry and recovery, but thermal control problems sent onboard temperatures to unacceptable levels, and the craft was de orbited two days early on 10 January 1993. This forced Russian officials to land the spacecraft near the Kazakh town of Karaganda, rather than the planned location near Kustanay. The high on-board temperatures are suspected of killing seven of the fifteen tadpoles. Additionally, one of the two monkeys on board went without food for three days, suffering measurable weight loss. After treatment for dehydration, both monkeys (Krosh and Ivasha) were declared healthy. Yevegenly Ilyin, a scientist at the Institute of Biomedical Problems, declared that, in spite of the equipment problems, the experiments were "generally successful" (References 33-36).

Although Bion 11, which was being prepared in late 1994, will employ the standard Vostok-derived platform, future biosatellite missions may adopt the more capable NIKA spacecraft bus now under development. NIKA will offer longer mission durations, increased recoverable payload (up to 1,200 kg), and greater power generation capabilities. The new biosatellite variant being designed by the Photon Design Bureau has been designated NIKA-B, Scientific Research Spacecraft-Biological (References 26, 37-39).

The Russian man-in-space program represents the world's foremost life sciences programs in general biology, human physiology, zoology, and botany. A myriad of both simple and complex life sciences experiments have been conducted on a regular basis since the introduction of manned space stations in 1971. The permanently manned Mir space station has been the site of many pioneering life sciences experiments, albeit not all have been successful. Perhaps the most important experiment to date was the more than 14-month flight of Dr. V. Polyakov on board the orbital station. This and other life sciences experiments are described more fully under manned flight operations (see Russian Piloted Space Missions).

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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 19:06:17 ZULU