The Soviet Space Monkeys

Russian Space Monkey

During early years of the "space race", both United States and Soviet Union invested many resources into sending animals into space. This vital research was intended to find out what influence space environment has on the living tissue, and the ability of humans to work and live in space during prolong periods of time. While initial US efforts focused mainly on monkeys and chimpanzees, Soviet Union elected to start their research with dogs. USSR's focus on monkeys came over 20 years after the US.

Monkey testing by the Soviet was started in 1983, on the series of satellites named Bion (Biocosmos). Officially, they were the part of the much older Soviet space program called "Cosmos", which became active again after the signing of the cooperation agreement between Soviet Union and USA. This agreement in space ventures became reality in 1975, when two countries cooperated in 20-day long space mission "Cosmos 782," that marked the beginning of the Bion program. During the next four years, two mode Cosmos missions went to space, all carrying variety of plant and animal life (mostly rats, fruit flies and carrot tissues and cells).

Monkey testing officially started on a 1983 mission of Bion 6 (34 years after first US monkey went into space, and 22 years after the legendary flight of Yuri Gagarin). Onboard this spaceflight was 2 small rhesus monkeys (equipped with the sensors that monitored their blood flow) and 18 pregnant white rats. All animal passengers safely returned to Earth after spending 5 days in space.

Bion 7 went to space two years later and carried with it two Rhesus monkeys named Gordyy and Oomka and variety of other animal and plant life. The goal of this 7-day long mission was to continue monitoring hearts and blood flow of monkeys in prolonged state of weightlessness and investigate healing abilities of wounded newts.

Bion 8 went to space on September 29, 1987 with continuing mission to research effects of spaceflight and space radiation on monkeys (Dryoma and Yerosha) and other biological objects. This mission marked the beginning of worldwide scientific space cooperation of over eight countries.

To this day, Bion 9 holds space endurance record for monkeys of 13 days and 17 hours. Launched on September 15, 1989, this mission had the goal of investigating motion sickness, reproduction and regeneration, immunology, and readaption to a normal gravity environment.

At the end of 1993, two rhesus monkeys called Krosh and Ivasha went to space on a 12-day mission in Bion 10. Equipped with much better scientific sensors, scientists from nine countries and European Space Agency monitored closely monkey's brain and muscular activity, metabolism and bone density.

Last Russian space flight happened in 1997 with the mission of Bion 11. It carried two macaque monkeysLapik and Multik who managed to land successfully after 14 days in space, but later on Multik died during scheduled post mission operation. Flight of Bion 11 represented end of an era of monkey testing in space. Russia, ESA and NASA disbanded their monkey facilities that year.

Over 45 years of monkey testing in space greatly improved our knowledge of the biology, and prevented possible injuries and loss of human life.