Spaceflight for Dummies: Ivan Ivanovich and the Space Mannequins
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
The earliest use of mannequins, dating back to the 16th century, was modeling the human anatomy for artists. The term was first used in the context of modeling clothes back in the 1800s though the solid-color plastic dummies that litter retailers across the world were first referred to as such in 1939. Since then, mannequins have been used to simulate car crashes, teach first aid, and yes, go to space.
The year was 1961. A manned voyage into space was weeks away from being attempted for the first time and the Soviet Union, not certain how their cosmonauts would perform during their descent to Earth, created a mannequin, or in this case, an anthropomorphic test dummy (ADT). They named him Ivan Ivanovich, the Russian equivalent of "John Doe", and made him look as lifelike as possible, sparing no expenses on rubbery skin, movable joints, and eyebrows and eyelashes. The Vostok spacecraft had no soft-landing capabilities, meaning it did not land on the ground after reentry so much as crash. Therefore, after its main parachute opened during descent the cosmonaut inside would need to eject from the capsule and land under his (or her) own parachute. The first test of this system occurred about a month before Yuri Gagarin would become the first human being in space. Korabl-Sputnik 4 launched on March 9, 1961 with Ivan Ivanovich and his dog Chernushka, as well as various reptiles, and 80 mice and guinea pigs (including some in his body). An automatic recording of a choir singing was also placed inside his body so any radio stations that picked up its transmission would know it was not coming from a real person. Ivan flew for a second time on March 25 with the dog Zvezdochka (see "Man's Best Friend: The Soviet Missions that Sent Dogs Into Space"). This time a recording of cabbage soup recipe was broadcasted along with the choir. Since the Vostok missions were planned to land in small villages, a sign reading MAKET ("dummy") was placed under the mannequin's helmet so those living in the area would not mistake him for a dead cosmonaut or alien. Ivan went up for auction in 1993 and was on loan to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. until 2017 when his owner took him back.
Ivan after his return to Earth, covered in snow (theatlantic.com)
Concurrently, the US developed and used their own ADT simply known as the mechanical astronaut. It was part of the Mechanical Astronaut Project and was an electronic dummy that could "inhale" and "exhale" man-like quantities of gas, heat, and water vapor. Like Ivan, it was used to simulate how the human body would react during all phases of the mission, from launch to landing. It flew on the Mercury-Atlas 3 launch abort on April 25, 1961 and completed one orbit around the Earth on Mercury-Atlas 4 on September 13.
The next ADT chronologically was the Soviet FM-2, a "human tissue equivalent plastic dummy used in radiological studies" with a face that looked like Yuri Gagarin. Its primary purpose was to measure the radiation doses a human being would experience during a flight to the moon and back. Its first flight was Zond 7 in August of 1969. That mission wound up being the only completely successful flight of the L1 spacecraft that could have returned cosmonauts alive to Earth. On August 11 it flew past the moon and took color photographs of both the Earth and moon from varying distances. The mannequin's traveling companions were 4 turtles. It flew again on the Earth-orbital mission Cosmos 368 in October of 1970 and is now on display at the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow.
This ADT is unique in being an actual satellite as opposed to a payload. It is best known as SuitSat-1 and is exactly what is sounds like— a satellite made from an old spacesuit. Its official designation is AMSAT-OSCAR 54 and was nicknamed "Mr. Smith" and "Ivan Ivanovich" in reference to the old Soviet dummy discussed at the beginning of this post. Though it seems novel, the idea was not spur of the moment like some might think but rather first formally discussed at an AMSAT symposium in October of 2004, more than a year before it became reality. Credit for its development is given to the Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) Russian team as a commemorative gesture for the 175th anniversary of the Moscow State Technical University. It was taken on an EVA and then deployed by Expedition 12 members Valeri Tokarev and Bill McArthur on February 3, 2006. It consisted of a retired Russian Orlan spacesuit with a radio transmitter mounted on its helmet. Voice messages recorded by the teams involved as well as students from around the world were continuously broadcasted in a number of languages. Transmission began 15 minutes after deployment and those receiving the transmission could log an entry on suitsat.org. Unfortunately, the project was not entirely successful: Some say it ceased functioning after only 2 orbits due to battery failure while others say it continued transmitting very weakly. Its last confirmed signal was on February 18 and it reentered the atmosphere on September 7.
"Goodbye, Mr. Smith" — SuitSat drifts out into nothingness (NASA)
These next two, Ripley and Rosie, were both flown on the maiden flights of SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsules. Ripley, SpaceX's ADT, was named after Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise and flew on SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 in March 2019. Boeing's ADT Rosie the Rocketeer was named after Rosie the Riveter and flew on Orbital Flight Test (1) in December 2019. They were both equipped with sensors that measured the forces experienced by human passengers. Rosie in particular had an abundance of sensors placed around the base of the skull, the neck, and the base of the spine.
Some dummies did not necessarily have scientific purposes. Blue Origin's Mannequin Skywalker, named after the Star Wars character, was a stand-in for space tourists during the launch of New Shepard in 2017. Most famously perhaps, SpaceX's Starman, named after the David Bowie song, is still in the driver's seat of the Tesla Roadster that served as the dummy payload for the maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy in February 2018.
Starman clad in a white SpaceX spacesuit (space.com)
Anthropomorphic Test Devices will undoubtedly be used to test the spacecraft of future generations and their contributions to space physiology research since the very beginning have earned them their own page in the history books.
Author's Note: Thanks for reading and remember to like and share this post!
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Gohd, Chelsea. “Rosie, a Bandana-Clad Test Dummy, Will Be the First to Fly on Boeing's Starliner.” Space.com, Space, 16 Dec. 2019, www.space.com/boeing-starliner-rosie-astronaut-test-dummy.html.
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