BIrds in Space

Have any birds been taken into space?

I’ve tried searching, but the aeorspace slang ‘bird’ is making it difficult.

I don’t know if birds have been taken into space, but I’ve long been fascinated by predictions of what would happen if one were.

Arthur C. Clarke, in The Other Side of the Sky had it that birds didn’t adjust to zero-G

Robert A. Heinlein, in Waldo, essentially agreed, but had a bird raised from the egg in zero-g as adapting to it.

That’s where it stayed for a long time, but in Games magazine in the 1980s someone noted that what really happens to birds in zero-g is that they die. Birds can’t suck water in, and swallow using gravity (watch a bird drink sometime – it tilts its head back to swallow). I imagine peristalsis takes over once it’s in, but , unless the bird could start the water going in, or got its water by eating water-rich stuff, it’d have a hard time of it.

Has anyone speculated about the effects of launch acceleration on them? The fact that they couldn’t drink would be good reason to not take them, but is there any reason that bird physiology would be particularly unsuited to space flight?

The TechTV channel recently had some footage on its show Secret Strange and True of some smallish bird, quail I think, on Mir.

They were floating midair, obviously confused and distressed, waggling their little feet. Then they’d spread their wings, flutter awkwardly in place for a moment, and then suddenly catch the air and shoot off like a rocket in some random direction. Mir being tiny, they would crash into a wall, stop flapping, and bounce back toward the center of the room. The cycle would then repeat.

Part of me cringed in sympathy with the poor, terrified bird; part of me laughed maniacally at the feathered hockey puck. I’m not proud.

They also had footage of quail chicks the cosmonauts were trying to raise. (Research question: a possible source of meat for long voyages? quick-growing, low-impact? better than cows, that’s for sure.) The narrator described how the chicks starved at first, because they wouldn’t eat while they weren’t touching anything; they were in panic mode the whole time. The cosmonauts apparently discovered they had to strap the baby birds down to get them to eat. I’m probably misremembering the details, by the way; I was flipping back and forth with war coverage and may have missed something important.

Based on the description on the website, I think this is the show I saw. You might check the schedule to see when it’s going to air again.

On the hijack topic of raising space-meat, I personally would rather take 100 pounds of steak and tether it to the outside of the station than bring up 200 pounds of grain and some quail pilgrims to raise the meat.

If only the cosmonauts could grow soybeans in their armpits…

The stuff about birds drinking sounds bogus, in that they could adapt their methods of getting the water into their throat… that’s assuming the can’t-swallow thing is true.

Perhaps they should have brought penguins. They are used to operating in a weightless state underwater. With big plastic flaps added to thier flippers so they could generate enough thrust against the air to propel themselves they might have adapted fairly well.

Cervaise, perhaps these are your Japanese Quail chicks in space? That second chick photo is, well, just odd.

The above link shows that quail chicks were not only hatched in space, but were brought back alive. That’s cool, because I had previously heard that hatching success stunk in previous experiments, and that eggs early on in development (first few days) generally died. It looks like taking already developed eggs (a dozen days old) gets over that developmental danger zone. Here are a few more results from space. (Not too many differences with terrestrial controls, and some differences were made up over time.)

Just for the record, Columbiformes (doves and pigeons) suck up water. And poultry can be watered with nipple systems. I have no idea if the nipples can work in space, however.

Thanks a bunch, folks. Looks like I won the argument.

Nitpick: The bird (canary) in Clarke’s story adapted very well to free fall. The title of the story is “Feathered Friend,” contained in the collection “The Other Side of the Sky.” In this story,

the canary unexpectedly performs the same role it did in coal mines. When life support failed, it passed out immediately and served as a warning to the crew.