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June 26, 1958


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    Proposal from biomedicine specialists addressed to Nikita Khrushchev to create a new scientific-research institution dedicated solely to study the biomedical aspects of space exploration. The authors ask that a unit from the Air Force’s existing Institute of Aviation Medicine be detached and made into a new institute for space medicine.
    "Letter, A. Bakulev et al. to Comrade N.S. Khrushchev," June 26, 1958, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Selected, edited, and annotated by Asif Siddiqi. Translated by Gary Goldberg and Angela Greenfield.
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New Sources on Yuri Gagarin (April 2021)

Proposal from biomedicine specialists addressed to Nikita Khrushchev to create a new scientific-research institution dedicated solely to study the biomedical aspects of space exploration.[1]Asif Siddiqi

Nº 0291cc

June 28, 1958


Top Secret




The boom in science and technology development has already made it possible now to approach the issue of ensuring manned rocket spaceflights.  

Of course, in order to send a human in a rocket to the upper layers of atmosphere and ensure the safety of such a flight, it is necessary to solve a whole number of specialized medical and biological issues of theoretical and practical importance.

Taking into account the difficulty of solving the safety issues for such flights, scientists, both in our country and in the U.S., have started conducting their experiments on animals.

A living organism on a rocket flight will encounter the following environmental factors: the practical absence of atmospheric pressure; the absence of molecular oxygen necessary for a living organism to breathe; prolonged accelerations which occasionally reach high levels; dynamic weightlessness; cosmic rays; corpuscular and ultra-violet radiation; and meteorites and other environmental factors.

All of these issues require long-term, deep scientific research. They can be solved only in conjunction with a whole series of scientific institutions with different areas of expertise. Since 1949 medical and biological research in the Soviet Union has been conducted on animals during rocket flights at 100-200 km altitudes and on earth satellites.[2] Scientific materials of great importance have been obtained, which open up prospects for breaking into outer space.

The first evaluation of the results obtained demonstrably shows that the flight on an earth satellite is endured by animals quite satisfactorily. The positive result of the experiment allows the research to be continued and broadened with increased persistence to ensure safety for health and life of humans during a space flight.

There is no need to demonstrate that in order to solve the issues of space flights, the amount of research conducted on rockets and earth satellites needs to be urgently increased and broadened, involving in this research a number of related organizations and scientific institutions of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences. In medical and biological research conducted on animals in rockets and in earth satellites, the Soviet Union unquestionably occupies the first place in the world.

Currently medical and biological research on rockets and earth satellites is conducted by a small staff (25 people) of the department for research and medical support of flights to the upper layers of atmosphere (the 8th Department), which belongs to the Air Force’s Scientific-Research and Testing Institute of Aviation Medicine (NIIIAM VVS).

At the same time in the U.S. experiments on people in the conditions of space flight have already commenced on a large scale.  These experiments are conducted in the U.S. by a number of military scientific institutions with the participation of a whole array of scientific institutions in allied fields. February 16, 1958 an experiment was completed which involved a military pilot, Donald Farrell in San Antonio, who spent seven days in a special chamber, fully cut off from familiar environment[3]. After that, an experiment was conducted at the same place for five days, but this time involving five pilots. In these experiments conditions close to the conditions of a space flight were created. Experiments conducted in the U.S. which unquestionably produce a large amount of valuable scientific data are sometimes presented as sensational.

With these experiments the Americans are trying to raise their prestige in the scientific world and in some way compensate for their failures in launching satellites and rockets.

All of this should put us on our guard and it obligates us to commence research on humans in the conditions similar to a rocket flight. The Soviet Union should have the priority on this issue, and the opportunities for this are realistic.

Currently a space suit has been developed which allows humans to remain at altitudes exceeding 30 km for one hour. Appropriate ejection seats are designed for abandoning aircraft in emergencies. However, one has to remember that retrofitting and designing new equipment will be necessary with subsequent tests and research for the purposes of spaceflights.

Accumulated scientific material shows that at this time a real momentum has already been created for commencing the training of humans and preparation of equipment for a rocket flight to space. But for this it is imperative to immediately start large-scale medical and biological research on animals and humans.

All research during the preparation of animals for the flights, especially for earth satellite flights, is extremely time-consuming as it takes multiple days and requires the use of many of the newest scientific methods. Therefore, even now, just for the purpose of expanding the volume of testing on animals during flights in rockets and earth satellites, it is necessary to increase the number of scientific personnel working on these issues.

Additionally, in order not to fall behind on research to train humans for space flights and to have an advantage in this area, it is also necessary to expand the number of scientific personnel on the condition that a specialized scientific research institution is created.

Manned space flight poses brand-new objectives in front of medical science, and those have never before been addressed by any other field of knowledge.

Therefore, a new area of medicine is emerging, which has a definite object of study, its own research methods, and strictly defined goals.

Therefore in order to ensure the safety of flights into outer space, and to ensure the necessary working ability of the man during such flights, it is imperative to conduct research of medical and biological issues of space flights broadly, engaging a whole number of scientific institutions and provide clear coordination of this work.

Research and development of core medical and biological issues of space flights can only be performed by a specialized institute for research of medical issues of space flights, which urgently needs to be established on the basis of the 8th Department for research and medical support of flights to upper layers of atmosphere that exists within NIIIAM VVS.

List of Core Medical and Biological Issues

of Space Flight that Need to Be Resolved

I. Study of the effect of the entirety of factors associated with a space flight on the organism of animals and humans, as well as designing protective measures.

1. Study of the effects of cosmic rays on living organisms.

2. The impact of dynamic weightlessness on vegetative functions, motor coordination, and spatial orientation of animals and humans.

3. The impact on the organisms of animals and humans of prolonged accelerations, occurring in different directions with respect to the axis of the body.

The effects of accelerations of variable direction and magnitude.

4. The study of the impact on the organisms of animals and humans of abrupt transition from accelerations to prolonged dynamic weightlessness and vice versa.

5. The study of the effects of prolonged immobility, social isolation, and decreased external stimuli on humans.

6. The study of the effects on the human organism of a prolonged stay in the conditions of decreased barometric pressure combined with elevated oxygen concentrations.

7. The study of the thermal regulation of the organisms of animals and humans in the conditions of normal and decreased barometric pressure combined with high and low temperatures of the air and surrounding objects.

8. Effects on the human organism of the noise and vibrations that correspond to the conditions present in rocket and on earth satellite flights.

II. Development of means of support for space flights:

1. The development of the hygienic requirements for the microclimate of the cabin for humans and animals.

2. The development and testing of tools for air regeneration and conditioning.

3. The development of methods of biological air regeneration through plant photosynthesis.

4. The development of space suits, apparel, and gear for flight crew members.

5. The development of emergency and safety equipment and survival gear.

6. The development of nutritional diets for humans and animals, as well as of the implements needed for the intake, preparation, and storage of food and water.

7. The development of an adequate seat, and a workspace for crew members and of ejection devices.

8. The development of deodorizing and sanitation methods.

Apart from conducting scientific research of medical and biological issues listed above, the newly-established institute for research of the issues of space flights should be charged with the coordination of all work conducted by other scientific institutions in this field.

Such an institute needs to be created under the umbrella of the Chief of Reactive Armaments of the USSR Ministry of Defense, with a staff of 229, or under the umbrella of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The core of this institute should be comprised of the personnel of the Air Forces’ NIIIAM 8th Department, which have vast experience in this area of work.

The coordination of work should be entrusted to a special commission under the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Scientific validation of the results of the work, procedures, and research programs should be carried out through the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences and the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences.

The Institute of Medical Issues of Space Flights has to be made up of three departments and two independent branches.

The first department will comprise four laboratories with a total staff of 46. The department’s objectives are the following: conducting medical research and developing the support equipment necessary for flights, and testing prototypes and pilot models of equipment (pressurized cabins with [air] regeneration systems, space suits, rescue equipment, etc.).

The second department will comprise three laboratories with a total staff of 38. The department’s objectives are the following: researching the impact of various factors of space flight on organisms of humans and animals; finding resources that would be able to bolster the resilience of humans against the effects of adverse factors of a flight, as well as increase the productivity of the crew members; research of the effectiveness of protective equipment; and development of the methodology for research on physiological functions during the flight.

The third department – technical – will have a total staff of 80. The objective of the department is to conduct scientific, engineering, and technological research and development of the equipment and devices for the experimental work of the scientific departments. Testing of pilot models of gear, devices, and equipment. Oversight of their proper operational use. Organization and implementation of scientific photography and filming. Servicing lab testing units (thermal pressure chambers, centrifuges, etc.)

A clinical [research] unit comprising 20 people, of which 10 will be specially selected test subjects on whom experiments will be conducted.

The clinical research unit has the task of conducting the selection, evaluation, and day-to-day medical observation of test subjects, including necessary lab testing.

The material and technical support unit (bookkeeping office, garage, and a vivarium for animals) comprising 26 people in total. The unit has an objective to provide day-to-day material and technical support for the scientific and research work of the institute.

The administration of the institute (abstracting bureau, library, security department, personnel, etc.) – 19 people.

Total number of staff of the institute will be 229 people.

The USSR Academy of Medical Sciences and the USSR Academy of Sciences will help select scientific cadre of the future institute.

In terms of location, it is advisable to place the future institute of medical issues of space flights in the same location where the NIIIAM VVS’s 8th Department is located. The building [where it is located] is currently being remodeled in order to house labs and a thermal pressure chamber. Moreover the development and manufacturing of the thermal pressure chamber is financed by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR specifically for the 8th Department.

We urge you to review the above considerations and to make a decision to establish the Institute of Medical Problems of Space Flights.

Only under these conditions the Soviet Union will be able to be in the forefront of this research.

President of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences

A. Bakulev[4]

Academician and secretary of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR,

Active Member of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR

Professor V. Parin[5]

Active Member of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR, Corresponding

Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR

Professor V. Chernigovskiy[6]

Chief of medical and biological research on rockets and satellites,

Doctor of Medical Science

V. Yazdovskiy[7]

June 28, 1958

True copy[8]

Archival source: APRF, f.3, op. 78, d. 1051, ll.15-21. Certified copy.

[1] Based on this note, on August 2, 1958, the following resolution of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU was adopted (Minutes No.74, §17): “Task a commission comprised of Comrades Khrunichev (convocation), [K. N.] Rudnev, [M. I.] Nedelin, [A. N.] Nesmeianov, [A. N.] Bakulev, and [Ye. I.] Smirnov with examining the issue of the intensification of the scientific research in the field of medical and biological support of space flights and to present its proposals within one month to the CPSU CC.” (See APRF, f. 3, op. 78, d. 1051, l. 14).

[2] Since 1949, the Soviet Union had been conducted “vertical” scientific flights into the upper atmosphere, reaching altitudes of about 100 kilometers. From 1951, some of these flights carried specially trained dogs. See Asif Siddiqi, Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974 (Washington, DC: NASA, 2000), 91-97, 180-182.

[3] This experiment was conducted by the USAF School of Aviation Medicine at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas from February 9 to 16, 1958. Donald G. Farrell spent 168 hours in a “space cabin simulator” on a simulated flight to the Moon.

[4] Aleksandr Nikolayevich Bakulev (1890-1967) was president of the Academy of Medical Sciences from 1953 to 1960.

[5] Vasiliy Vasil’yevich Parin (1903-1971) was a leading biomedicine specialist at the Institute of Therapy.

[6] Vladimir Nikolayevich Chernigovskiy (1907-1981) was director of the Institute of Normal and Pathological Physiology.

[7] Vladimir Ivanovich Yazdovskiy (1913-1999) was chief of Department No. 8 at the Air Force’s Institute of Aviation Medicine.

[8] Signature of K. Chupryakova, records clerk of the General Department of the CPSU Central Committee.


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