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Jim Lewis, Sunday, 12-8-13 December 9, 2013

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Jim Lewis, Sunday, 12-8-13


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Guest:  Jim Lewis.  Topic:  Animals in space based on his documentary film, “America’s Animal Astronaut Heroes.” Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.

We welcomed back Jim Lewis to this 90 minute discussion on the documentary film project his company is completing, “America’s Animal Astronaut Heroes.”  For those of you on Facebook, search for the title and LIKE the page for additional information.  In our first segment, Jim told us how this project came to be as well as why it was targeted it for kids.  We talked about various animals that had been to space, including the Soviet dog Laika which Jim said was a one of the Soviet wild dogs taken off the street.  I think you will find interesting the reason why the Soviets chose wild dogs off the street for space experiments.  We also talked about a project, Rats with Hats and fruit fly experiments.  Jim got several questions asking about taking pets to space on space settlement missions as well as taking animals for feedstock.  Later in the segment, we got into talking about the chimps that NASA sent to space and here, Jim had many chimp stories. In addition, Jim talked about fish in space and getting seasick in their aquariums.  Marshall called in to talk about taking chickens and goats to space (the latter for goat’s milk).  Another question dealt with wondering if the animals liked being in space.  Don’t miss his answer to this question.  Then we went back to mice and rat stories and the chimps.  Jim also mentioned the frog-tadpole and toadfish experiments.  Listeners wanted to know about small animal commercial experiments on the ISS.  Before the segment ended, listeners asked about a future time when service dogs might be welcome on board to help a blind or deaf spaceflight participant, settler, or crew member.

In the second segment, Jim said the most favorite animals were the space monkeys Abel and Baker.  At one time, Baker was getting 200-300 letters from fans a day!  In talking about our future in space,  Jim said that animals were still pioneering for humans in the future.  We talked about animals having gone to space from ESA, India, Russia, etc.  We also talked about NASA rules as compared to potentially different rules on a private launch to a private space station.  Near the end of the program, Jim updated us on space activities in Florida and along the space coast.  SpaceX was a huge positive sign, plus many aviation companies have moved in to take advantage of the skilled workforce no longer involved in space work.

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog above.  You can reach Jim Lewis through me at drspace@thespaceshow.com.


1. Doug Worrall - December 14, 2013

Funny how stories get bigger in the telling! Thanks for the reply.

Interesting your comments about the monkeys not actually smiling, but expressing fear. I particularly liked David’s observation in your interview that the chimps were not actually volunteers…

I shall try to get a copy of your movie, it sounds excellent.

2. Jim Lewis - December 14, 2013

Some the story about the chimp mission is true, but I am not sure “destroying the capsule” is accurate. It sounds like maybe the story has got exaggerated over the years.

It is true that one of the chimp mission, the shock mechanism shorted out and the chimp got shocked for both right or wrong answers. However, the chimps flew in side a capsule of their own called often referred to a Couch. This is the same capsule they tested and trained in. The capsule was molded in the back to fit the chip and the cover somewhat locked the chimp in place. With the Chimp inside, it was latched from the outside and only had a Plexiglas window for the chimp to look out The entire couch and chip were placed in the Mercury capsule. So there would be no way for the chimp to destroy the capsule.

For America’s Animal Astronaut Heroes we shot a whole segment on the Chimp Couch and how it worked with Space Chimp Historian Roger McCormick. Here is link to a photo of Roger talking about the Couch with the Couch Capsule closed

Here is link to photo of the Couch open with the chimp Ham in it.

3. Doug Worrall - December 12, 2013

Hi David,
Thanks for your show, as always. A fascinating discussion with Jim about animals in space.

Thought I’d pass on a little tale I heard many years ago while working as an engineer in Sydney, relayed to me by a very old and wise engineer who’d worked at the Australian Honeysuckle Creek deep space comma station. As you may recall, in the early days of space flight comms stations around the world were vital to ensure continuous communications with orbital spacecraft.

As Jim pointed out, early chimp experiments focused on getting them to flick switches in zero G. This was done by lighting a light above a switch, and rewarding the Chimp if he got it right; conversely , if he got it wrong he got an electric shock.

On one of the early chimp missions the guys in Honeysuckle were monitoring the chimp’s telemetry medical data and it was not what they expected. It showed signs of considerable stress, more than expected.

No other monkeys had behaved like this. What was causing this aberrant behaviour?

Apparently the Aussie engineers suspected something amiss and asked NASA to discontinue the test, but NASA insisted it run it’s planned duration.

After a while the telemetry med data stopped, and no more data was received. No more switch-test data was received either. All very confusing.

After splashdown and recovery they discovered the chimp had ripped all the sensors off and done the best he could at destroying the capsule interior.

On a detailed inspection of the capsule the NASA engineers discovered that the switch test mechanism had failed so that whichever switch the monkey pressed he received an electric shock. The highly trained chimp rightly expected rewards, but was zapped repeatedly even when flicking the right switch.

Imagine that fur-ball’s frustration! Presumably he was wearing a monkey space-suit, preventing the shit-throwing part of a monkey-tantrum, but he did everything else to vent his frustration.

That’s the real reason astronauts wear space suits I suspect.

Thanks Jim for a fascinating discussion.

4. rocketscirick - December 10, 2013

Here’s to Spot and Porthos for demonstrating that humans and other sentient beings will desire animal companionship on their journeys into space.

* Spot: feline companion of Lt.Cmdr. Data (ST:TNG), so much so that Data composed a poem “Ode to Spot”.
“Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature.” … etc.

* Porthos: canine companion of Capt. Jonathan Archer (ST:Enterprise). Porthos, a beagle, reportedly had siblings Athos, Aramis and d’Artagnan.

–Rick from Silicon Valley

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