Hector, a French rat in space

Let us have a look, for this new Space Legal Issues article, at Hector, the French rat which flew to outer space. The first living being to be taken aboard a V2 rocket at an altitude of one hundred kilometers by the United States of America were leak flies, on February 20, 1947. They came back in great shape. This luck did not smile on Albert II, a young rhesus macaque who was the first primate to cross the limits of the stratosphere in 1949. However its death is not due to his short experience in space, but to a technical fault. The parachutes that were supposed to cushion the fall of the capsule in which the monkey was located did not work.

Laika, four years before Yuri Gagarin, became the first living being to be placed in orbit. However, she died early on her journey. Many other animals have attempted the feat such as Marfusha, a rabbit sent in 1959 by the USSR. The same year, twelve frogs and two mice perished in the explosion of their rocket shortly after takeoff.

A good number of animals paved the way before the mission led by France and it is in this context that the Hector mission took place.

Hector, a French rat in space

This first French experiment was conducted under the aegis of the Scientific Action Committee for National Defense chaired by General Jean Guérin with the help of the Space Research Committee chaired by Professor Pierre Auger.

Hector is a charming white rat that French specialists intend for space travel. For the accomplishment of his high mission, Hector is equipped with a special suit which is fixed by springs to a metal frame. Thus dressed, he was invited to the delights of space training and in particular those of the centrifuge to give a taste of flight without gravity. Six other rats are training at the astronautical medicine center. Like Hector, they will be able to have the honor of taking their place in the cockpit of the Véronique rocket and of making, from the Hammaguir base, near Colomb-Béchar, the one hundred kilometers leap into space. On February 23, 1961, Hector was the first living rat to be launched into space aboard the Véronique AGI-24 rocket.

After the feat of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard the Vostok 1 mission of April 12, 1961, the journey of a white rat in space may seem outdated. It is not so. Sending and recovering the first man in space is the aerospace equivalent of the first flight of aviation pioneer Clément Ader. The objective of such a mission is to really know that this flight is possible, that it is achievable. Many details useful not only for spatial physiology but also for the physiognomy of man still remain to be studied and unraveled. The French experiments are intended to make a contribution to the very general study of the functioning of the central nervous system and of the equilibration system. To do this, it is necessary to start studies first on small animals such as rats, increase in size of these to reach, if necessary, in humans.

Expected difficulties

Scientists expected many difficulties, notably in recording or interpreting the data. The means of the time were fallible. It was about recovering fine data, and therefore subject to a lot of interference. In fact, the scientists expected disturbances, in particular at the launch of the rocket (in particular because of the vibrations undergone during takeoff) but also on arrival on the ground. Against all expectations, everything worked perfectly from start to finish.

Another difficulty was from the point of view of the accelerations undergone but many tests had previously been carried out in a centrifuge and a good number of studies had been carried out on this subject.

Mission results

Several data were recovered as a result of this mission. First, the sound recording was recovered from inside the rocket itself. Once processed, this recording made it possible to isolate the entire sound spectrum but also the exact intensity. This allows subsequent analyzes to identify the physical effects on Hector. In addition, this recording was collected inside the rocket itself, which makes it a very rare document for the time.

Then a second recording was received directly at the laboratory. It is about the recording of the heartbeat but also of the respiratory sound of Hector. This makes it possible to calculate the variations of these parameters under conditions of micro-gravity.

Also, it was noted the acceleration undergone by the animal during the launching of the rocket as ranging between eight and twelve Gs. However, Hector, due to his position adapted to withstand strong accelerations, supported it very well.

Concerning micro-gravity, scientists have observed from a physiological point of view the absence of muscle tone linked to the absence of gravity.

It is important to note that the passage in microgravity during this mission was about five minutes, which is much superior to the experiments of microgravity that were carried out in plane during which the transition to microgravity was only about twenty seconds.

This mission subsequently resulted in the shipment of larger animals. Félicette was the first cat launched into space on October 18, 1963 as part of the French space program.