On September 29, 1987, the U.S.S.R. launched Cosmos 1887, a biosatellite carrying biological and radiation physics experiments from 9 countries. The biosatellite returned to Earth on October 12 after a mission of 12.5 days. The landing was several hundred miles from the expected recovery site, which caused considerable difficulties.
The biological payload on the spacecraft included 2 primates, 10 rats, fruit flies, stick insects, beetles, guppies, Hynobiidae, chlorella ciliates, newts, and corn. More than 50 NASA-sponsored scientists were involved in conducting the 33 U.S. experiments onboard. One of these experiments, a study of radiation levels in the space environment, did not require the use of any biological subjects. The U.S. conducted only one experiment on the primates flown on the biosatellite. The remaining U.S. experiments were performed on tissue samples from five of the flight rats. A number of these experiments were extensions of the studies conducted on the Spacelab 3 mission in April 1985.
The other countries involved in conducting experiments on the mission were the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, France, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. The ESA also sponsored some experiments.
The U.S. was responsible for developing flight and ground-based hardware, testing of hardware and experiment procedures, developing rat tissue sampling procedures, and transferring tissues and data from the Soviet Union after the flight. One of the mission's noteworthy features was the Rat Biospecimen Sharing Program, which allowed scientists in diverse disciplines to analyze a large number of rat tissue samples.
The objective of the U.S. experiments was to investigate the effect of microgravity on various body systems. The primate experiment was designed to study the growth and development of the peripheral skeleton. Rat studies encompassed a broad array of scientific disciplines. The effects of microgravity on cardiac, liver, small intestine, and bone tissue, liver function, skeletal growth, hormone levels, and metabolism were studied using various approaches. Other studies investigated changes in the immune, nervous, and reproductive systems, in muscle and connective tissue, and in skeletal and mineral homeostasis. Another experiment was conducted to evaluate radiation exposure during the flight and to measure the shielding effectiveness of the spacecraft.
Ten 12-week-old male specific pathogen free Wistar rats (Rattus norvegicus) were flown on the biosatellite. Two rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta), named Drema and Yerosha, also occupied the biosatellite.
The rats were housed together in a single rodent BIOS as in Cosmos 1514. An atmospheric pressure of 760 mm mercury was maintained inside the cage. Average humidity within the BIOS was about 58 percent, and the ambient temperature ranged from 22° to 23°C. Lights remained on for 16 out of every 24 hours.
The monkey BIOS capsules used to house the flight monkeys were identical to the ones used on the Cosmos 1667 mission.
Hardware for the radiation dosimetry experiment included a Lexan box detector assembly, a thermoluminescence detector assembly, sealed plastic stacks, and activation foil assemblies placed inside and outside the spacecraft.
Four types of temperature controlled biotransporters were developed for the mission. These units were essential for ensuring the success of the Rat Biospecimen Sharing Program. The electrically powered biotransporter used to move specimens from the recovery site to Moscow could be kept at 23°C for at least 40 hours. If needed, it could also be set to 6°C or 37°C. Specimens were transferred from Moscow to the U.S. in 4°C, -23°C or -70°C biotransporters, depending on the requirements of specific tissues. The 4°C transporter had a battery-operated heating system and refrigerant packs, and was capable of maintaining temperatures between 2°C and 10°C for at least 72 hours. The -23°C biotransporter also had refrigerant packs and could keep specimens frozen at temperatures between -5°C and -35°C. The -70°C biotransporter contained dry ice and could keep specimens frozen for at least 48 hours.
The general experiment design for this mission was similar to that on earlier missions. Basal, synchronous and vivarium control experiments were conducted, on 3 groups of 10 rats. Preflight control data were obtained from the basal control group. Diet, temperature, humidity and lighting were similar to conditions expected in flight. The vivarium control group was maintained in standard laboratory conditions. The same amount of food was available to animals in this group as for the flight group, but it was provided in a single daily ration. The environmental conditions experienced by the flight animals during the period immediately following landing were not simulated for this group. Animals in the synchronous control group were exposed to conditions identical to those experienced by the flight animals, except for the re-entry g force and the postflight transportation conditions. These conditions included the g force and vibration of launch, the 42-hour postflight food deprivation, and the disrupted lighting regimen and temperature variations experienced by the flight animals because of the unexpected off-target landing. Euthanasia of synchronous control rats was postponed for the same period as for the flight experiment.
X-rays were taken of both legs and both arms of flight monkeys at two months and one month before flight, for a musculoskeletal study.
Rats were acclimated to flight-type cages beginning nearly three weeks before launch. Rats in the basal control group were euthanized five days prior to launch. Tissue samples from these rats were frozen or refrigerated for later shipment to the U.S. Flight rats were placed in the spacecraft 46 hours before launch.
No preflight measurements were taken for the radiation dosimetry experiment because all dosimeter units were designed for a single exposure. Dosimeters were assembled in the investigator's laboratory with NASA oversight, and were then transported to the U.S.S.R. in a specially designed lead-lined case. Before launch, the dosimeters were placed in various external and internal locations on the spacecraft and the craft photographed to document the arrangement of the units.
During the flight, rats consumed about 50 grams of the paste diet daily, which included approximately 35 ml of water. The rats also drank about 2.5 ml of water per day.
One of the monkey feeders began to malfunction during the second day of flight. Extra juice was made available to the monkey by a backup juice dispenser. The health condition of the animal was carefully monitored from the ground. A decision was eventually made to shorten the mission to 12.5 days from the planned length of 14 days. The normal light cycle was interrupted before re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere so that the animals would be awake for landing.
The dosimeters located outside the spacecraft were held in a flat container with a closeable lid. This lid was opened after launch and remained open throughout the time in orbit. Before re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere the lid was closed to protect the dosimeters.
The biosatellite landed in Siberia about 1800 miles from the expected recovery site. Landing force was estimated to be about 3-4 g. The spacecraft was eventually located about three hours after it landed. A heated tent was constructed around the spacecraft to keep the animals warm since the outside temperature ranged from -5°C to -20°C. The lights had become extinguished during the landing, so the animals remained in the dark until they were moved from the biosatellite into transport cages. Because the ventilation system functioned well after landing, an adequate air supply was maintained within the biosatellite.
Although the biosatellite was recovered 3 hours after landing, 20 more hours elapsed before the animals were transferred to transport cages. The cages reached the planned recovery site only after being transported in a bus, an airplane, and a van for 10 more hours.
Monkeys were subjected to brief clinical examinations at the recovery site. Other examinations were carried out from 2 to 12 days after recovery. A 25 percent weight loss was noted in Yerosha, the monkey with the inoperable in-flight feeder. The other monkey, Drema, gained 140 grams. Postflight x-rays were taken of both monkeys and the six control monkeys after the flight.
Temperature was not recorded in the rat cages after the biosatellite landed, but postflight calculations indicated that the internal temperature had decreased slowly to a minimum of about 12°C. The rats were apparently not adversely affected by the low temperature, since they neither huddled nor were cold to the touch when the cages were opened. They seemed healthy and well groomed. Because the rat feeders did not function after landing, the rats were deprived of food for 42 hours from the time they were last fed in flight. It is not known whether the rats had access to water during the period of time between landing and recovery. Both food and water were provided to the animals after they were moved from the flight cages to the transport cages. The flight rats were euthanized 48-56 hours after landing, and tissue samples were obtained by a team of Soviet specialists. Some 2000 tissue samples were shipped to the U.S. in the temperature-controlled biotransporters.
The dosimetry packages were returned to the U.S. in a lead-lined transfer box 10 days after the biosatellite was recovered. From the spacecraft's re-entry profile, it was determined that some high temperatures (not greater than 88°C) had existed in the vicinity of the external dosimeters. However, the period of exposure to these temperatures appeared to have been too brief to produce significant differences in detector response.
It was concluded that a modification of techniques used in the primate skeleton experiment would enable subtle skeletal changes to be found. Significant skeletal changes were noted in the flight monkey with the malfunctioning feeder. Some changes were also seen in the other flight monkey.
The rat studies yielded good results on changes in muscle, bone, heart, and liver tissue, liver function, testes, and metabolic and endocrine functions that presumably occurred as a consequence of space flight.
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Ballard, R.W. and J.P. Connolly. U.S./U.S.S.R. Joint Research in Space Biology and Medicine on Cosmos Biosatellites. FASEB Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, January 1990, pp. 5-9.
Connolly, J.P., R.E. Grindeland, and R.W. Ballard, eds. U.S. Experiments Flown on the Soviet Biosatellite Cosmos 1887. Final Reports. NASA TM-102254, February 1990.
Grindeland, R. Cosmos 1887: Science Overview. FASEB Journal, vol. 4, no. 1, January 1990, pp. 10-15.