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Heinlein And Russian Quail In Orbit

During the 1990's, the Russian space program tried studying the impact of zero-gravity on embryo development:

In 1979, the Russians loaded Japanese quail eggs onto Soyuz 32 to study the impacts of zero-gravity environments on the development of embryos—and life as a whole. The USSR also wanted to determine whether a Japanese Quail could hatch in space and eventually be a viable food source for cosmonauts.

The experiment didn’t go quite as planned: The quail embryos developed too slowly on the shuttle, and some exhibited severe deformities. The specific inhibitors are unknown, but later experiments on fertilized eggs on the Mir space station showed that higher-than-usual radiation and temperatures may have been part of the cause. The cosmonauts kept trying, however. Finally, in 1990, the first healthy quail chick hatched on Mir, becoming not only the first bird in space, but the first vertebrate (that we know of) to be born outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Five more chicks followed.

Here's what it looks like for birds born in space:

Robert Heinlein visualized this experiment in 1942. In his story Waldo, he describes a man stricken with myasthenia gravis who lives in a space station habitat - and one of his pets:

Waldo touched the keyboard of the voder, producing a musical whistling pattern of three notes. There was a rustling near the wall of the room ‘above' them; a tiny yellow shape shot towards them - a canary. It sailed through the air with wings folded, bullet fashion. A foot or so away from Waldo it spread its wings, cupping the air, beat them a few times with tail down and spread, and came to a dead stop, hovering in the air with folded wings. Not quite a dead stop, perhaps, for it drifted slowly, came within an inch of Waldo's shoulder, let down its landing gear, and dug its claws into his singlet

Waldo reached up and stroked it with a fingertip. It preened

‘No earth-hatched bird can learn to fly in that fashion,' he stated. ‘I know. I lost half a dozen before I was sure that they were incapable of making the readjustment. Too much thalamus.

‘In a man you would call it acute anxiety psychosis. They try to fly; their own prime skill leads them to disaster. Natur­ally, everything they do is wrong and they don't understand it

'Presently they quit trying; a little later they die. Of a broken heart, one might say, poetically.' He smiled thinly. ‘But Ariel is a genius among birds. He came here as an egg; he invented, unassisted, a whole new school of flying.' He reached up a fin­ger, offering the bird a new perch, which it accepted

‘That's enough, Ariel. Fly away home.

The bird started the ‘Bell Song' from Lakmé.

He shook it gently. ‘No, Ariel. Go to bed.

The canary lifted its feet clear of the finger, floated for an instant, then beat its wings savagely for a second or two to set course and pick up speed, and bulleted away whence he bad come, wings folded, feet streamlined under

Read the rest of this cool Audobon society article to learn the United States' response - The Amazing Story of the Cold War Space-Egg Race.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 2/11/2021)

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