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An Air Force Experiment Tossed Cats Into a Microgravity Environment

It tested the conditions that astronauts would find in space.

Back in 1947, the Air Force undertook an adorable experiment that saw cats flailing in microgravity, according to Popular Science.  The test was executed by the Behavioral Sciences Laboratory within the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. 

The experiment was entitled Project No. 7184 “Human Performance in Advanced Systems.” What did it test?

Flight surgeons were unsure at the time how men in space might respond to conditions of microgravity. They did not know whether they would have unfavorable reactions to a space environment such as their eyeballs popping out or the fluid in their inner ear moving around and causing them extreme nausea.

They also simply did not know whether the astronauts would be able to move at all. That's where the cats came in. By observing how the cats responded to space the scientists were able to extrapolate many scientific conclusions about how humans could move in space.

In October of 1962, the lab released a report entitled “Weightless Man: Self-Rotation Techniques" where they illustrated all their lessons learned from their cat experiment.

The report revealed that the scientists explored nine specific movements with step-by-step instructions that would be ideal for movement in space. The scientists concluded that moving in weightlessness was possible thanks to a delicate balance of managing these movements.

If used properly, these pre-set movements would allow an astronaut to control their movements and not flail. The movements were set up by breaking the human body into three axes of control.

The X-axis consisted of the back-to-front axis going through the body’s center. In this case, a full rotation would correspond to a cartwheel. The Y-axis ran side to side through the middle. Its full rotation would then be the equivalent of a somersault. And, finally, the Z-axis was top to bottom axis with a full rotation being assigned as a pirouette.

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Together these three axes would ensure that astronauts could guide themselves smoothly and efficiently in space and would forever revolutionize how we approached space travel.

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