Until We Meat Again
By R. D. Flavin

By stock and stone,
until we meat again,

with burgers, chops, or ribs.
I remember the horseradish,
though I've forgotten how to ride...

Kavoshgar 3 lifting off in Iran, "Helmz 1," a rat, a turtle, a worm, were aboard the experimental sub-orbital flight.

     Earlier this month Iran became the sixth nation to experiment with non-human life by launching them toward space or, by definition, pretty damned high into the mesosphere (approx. 53 miles).  Throughout history and twistory we’ve debated death and diet, execution and experimentation, and fact and fiction.  I’m not seeing the conclusions of these arguments any time soon.  Some vegetarians, like Paul McCartney and his late wife, Linda, hold that it’s not nice to eat anything with a face, but this approach was successfully countered by the comedian, Steven Wright, who once claimed, “I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals, I’m a vegetarian because I [really] hate plants.”  Some wave “goodbye,” but I say, “Until we meat again...”

      The day after Iran’s launch, an Internet poster whacked with: “THE RAT, TWO WORMS AND A TURTLE.  The obscure symbolism that Iran sent encapsulated in its rocket launch is a lot more frightening than the rocket launch itself.  In less than one week the anniversary of the revolution in 1972 will be going on.  In 1972 the CIA director’s name was Richard Helms (in Farsi his name would be pronounced and spelled Helmz).  1. Rat = Helmz1 = CIA.  Worms and snakes in Farsi both = Satan.  2. The two worms symbolizes the US and Israel.  The Iranians have been able to out run, out smart, delay, and fool the UN from taking any actions against Iran.  3. The turtle symbolizes the whole world or the UN.  Their message is quiet simple and very clear.  We are too late.  In this case I’d rather be called nuts than right.”  Okay, the poster is nuts...  A cautious guess would suggest that the rat was named with the British and German governments and media in mind, as our English verb "helm," as used in the sense "to steer or command," was borrowed from Middle High German well before Shakespeare's time (see Measure for Measure III, ii, 151).  A far less cautious (and absurd) guess would offer a reference to Mao Zedong, called "the Great Helmsman."  However, as Freud's bookie was overheard as saying, sometimes a rat is just a rat.

     Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the U.S. began using captured Nazi V-2 ballistic missiles for defensive and scientific experiments.  A December 17, 1946 launch carried fungus spores, but as the spore containers were never recovered and tested, this initial experiment with non-human life forms is generally overlooked.  The first successful test with life being rocketed toward space (approx. 60 miles “up”) occurred on February 20, 1947 with the recovery of several vials of fruit flies (along with rye and cotton seeds) which were later analyzed by Harvard University scientists and determined to have suffered no mutations from being subjected to …cosmic rays (Krause 1947, p. 445).

"COSMIC RAYS!!" origin panels from pp. 10 & 13 of The Fantastic Four #1 (November, 1961).

      Though some cosmic rays (particles, actually) originate from Sol, our sun, we still aren’t sure where the majority of cosmic rays come from, with recent theories suggesting an extremely large black hole at the center of our galaxy which produces a lot of weird energy (Raymond 2009).  Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, primarily with high-altitude weather balloons, experiments demonstrated an increase in cosmic rays the further “up” into the atmosphere one measured.  With the introduction of missiles and rockets, science continued to investigate cosmic rays, especially their effect upon life.  With a goal of human space travel and exploration, non-human test subjects were used to determine whether or not that goal was possible.  The Marvel Comics superhero team, The Fantastic Four, acquired powers they then used to fight evil and do good deeds after they encountered cosmic rays, however that’s fiction and the fact is that most life doesn’t fare well when exposed to significant amounts of cosmic rays.

     The tradition of using non-humans before humans to accomplish a task or to gain knowledge extends to antiquity in matters of sacrifice, warfare, (proto-) science, and other areas.  The investigation of outer space, “the final frontier,” as the voice-over for Star Trek goes, with its many inherent dangers like cosmic rays, benefitted immensely from the use of non-humans (though to-date, more non-humans have died in the investigation than humans).  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in New York City on April 10, 1866, followed by the American Anti-Vivisection Society at Philadelphia in 1883, were vocal and litigious with animal rights, humane (read: somewhat considerate) treatment, and unnecessary medical experimentation, but their voices and actions were limited concerning our early space flight experiments, as our national consciousness was still struggling with the horrors of the Second World War.  It was the dawn of the Nuclear Age, a manifest future of new challenges and, with the communist nations of the USSR and China, new enemies to defend against.  What proud American could convincingly speak against the use of monkeys to make America stronger?  A few did, but only a very few.  The general public was only vaguely aware of the occasional success of the early American space flight experiments and were seldom if ever told of the failures.

Albert I before launch, a first day of issue postcard illustration of Gordo, and a very happy Ham after his space flight.

     The first monkey used in a space flight experiment was a 9 lb Macca mullatta rhesus monkey named Albert (later, designated Albert I).  On June 11, 1948, injected with lots of sodium pentobarbital and a strong barbiturate, he was placed in a V-2 Blossom III rocket, a launch countdown continued despite a lack of any instrument readings indicating the monkey was still alive, the rocket launched, suffered a premature burn-out, and only achieved an altitude of 37 miles.  As the nose-cone containing the likely deceased monkey fell back to Earth, the parachute malfunctioned, it crashed, and …there wasn’t much left to study (Burgess & Dubbs 2007, pp. 38-51).  Later efforts would also suffer from a number of problems, though Albert VI survived a spectacular flight, re-entry, and landing, …only to die from heat prostration a couple of hours later because recovery took too long.

     Another notable achievement which sadly ended in tragedy, was that of Gordo (or “Old Reliable”), a 1 lb Saimiri sciureus squirrel monkey who journeyed 300+ miles from Earth on Friday the 13th in December of 1958.  Carried by a Jupiter 21 IRBM, Gordo was the first to reach outer space, location beacons didn’t work, it’s believed a floatation device on the capsule failed after splashdown, the recovery ship gave up looking for him after six hours, and superstitious critics had their way remarking on the Navy tradition of not launching any new ships on Friday the 13th.  By all accounts and evidence, Gordo handled the flight, weightlessness, and re-entry fine.  The mission was a great success for science, not so much for Gordo, though his story received attention from Life Magazine (Barr 1958), the New York Times (Mooney 1958), and other media.

     Lest it be thought that only tragedy befell our simian space travelers, a mention must be made of the successful Mercury-Redstone 2 sub-orbital flight on January 31, 1961 by Ham (an acronym formed from Holloman Aero-Medical [Laboratory]), a Pan troglodytes troglodytes chimpanzee.  Trained with B. F. Skinner-esque operant conditioning (Emurian & Brady 2007, pp. 118-121), the chimp went on a great 16 minute and 39 second ride which reached an altitude of 157 miles, all the while performing his assigned tasks of turning knobs and flipping switches, essentially doing what Alan B. Shepard. Jr. would do aboard Mercury-Redstone 3 on May 5, 1961, when he became the first American to complete a sub-orbital flight into space (the Soviets had launched Gagarin two weeks earlier).  For his service, Ham was retired to the Washington Zoo until 1980, when he was transferred to the North Carolina Zoological Park where he passed away in 1983.  With descriptive “tough love,” a NASA web-site states: “Ham’s skeleton would be retained for ongoing examination by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.  His other remains were respectfully laid to rest in front of the International Space Hall of Fame in Alamogordo, New Mexico.”  Ham had “The Right Stuff.”

Laika getting ready for 1957's Sputnik 2 orbital flight, Astro from 1962's The Jetsons, and Disney's 2009 Space Buddies.

     Credit must be fairly and properly extended and much is due the Soviet space program and its use of canines.  Beyond musing over a single or a multi-regional domestication of the modern dog from holarctic gray wolves (passim Flavin 2008), the Russians have a long history with Canis lupus.  The work of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine) and his demonstration of a “conditioned reflex” through the study of the salivation of dogs (hence, the expression “Pavlov’s dog” as meaning a reflexive response), was a source of extreme pride for the Soviet people and, surprisingly, the government as well.  Perhaps it was such history which compelled the Soviets to begin in 1951 to use dogs in their space flight experiments.

     When the Soviets listened to the first radio-wave “beep” transmitted from their Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957, they knew they had achieved something great besides beating the Americans in the race to place an artificial satellite in orbit around the Earth.  To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution on November 7, 1957 (yeah, eventually the Soviets switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian), a second Sputnick was ordered, but this time a biological experiment was included to gauge the effect of orbit on a life form.  Naturally, the Soviets used a dog, as they had always intended to do since 1951, just their plans were rushed because of the potential publicity of the new “space race.”  To assist their mission, as the story goes, they purposefully chose a stray from the streets of Moscow with the reasoning that the dog would already have been used to cold, difficult survival situations.  Though the Soviets installed an oxygen generator to prolong the dog’s life as long as possible, despite telling their citizens and the world they had every intention of recovering the dog, they knew from the start the dog would never survive.

     On November 3, 1957, four days ahead of schedule and less than a month since the launch of the first Sputnik, Sputnik II took off with Laika (“Barker” in Russian) onboard.  Excitement mixed with envy and was peppered with protests here and abroad (Kihiss 1957; Love 1957).  With the term “Muttnik,” even American science writers turned mean (Anonymous 1957).  It’s reported she was stressed before her flight (she was strapped in three days prior to launch), way stressed during lift-off and acceleration, but relaxed a little when she ate some food.  She died after several hours in space — I, for personal reasons, am glad she seemed to find some stability in a last meal, especially at that height.  As per Cold War crap and propaganda, Laika’s “true” story only emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union.  The Russian people dedicated a monument to her in 2008.  Man’s best friend, indeed.  It’ll be some time before dogs again return to obit-capable space or outer space beyond…

Cultured meat and PETA example of yummy.

     We do what we can and also, by necessity, what we can get away with.  Most times we help the old lady across the street, but sometimes …we knock her down and steal her purse.  We ain’t perfect and it is what it is.  Politics?  Religion?  Please, it’s accepted that we reward entertainers.  Science?  It’s our last and only retreat, yet even with ‘science’ we find fault, what are we to do?  ‘Better’ is an appropriate response.  I’ve previously compared cheeseburgers, the death penalty, and abortion, because I feel they are all extreme and essential acts that we currently do to …maintain ourselves.  The glass may be half empty or half full, go ahead and argue, though life and death is what it is.  I felt sorry for “Baby Fay” and her transplant problem, she was given a baboon’s heart and cyclosporin (an anti-organ rejection drug with a significant side-effect of way wild hair growth), and had she lived she would have been …hairy, yet, I would do the same.  It is what it is and if sacrifice can advance, …it is what it is.  I’d lay down my life to rescue a fellow animal in need, I’d like to believe a fellow animal might lay down their life for me if needed, but …hypotheticals are the stuff of drunks and FOX NEWS.  Science doesn’t proclaim “eat or be eaten,” but rather it suggests manners.  We became ‘human’ because we cared for a mate, children, the old and sickOkay, the opposable thumb and fire-making ability were important.  However, sigh, it is what it is and we’ll do better, and maybe before we stop disagreeing about politics and religion, we’ll agree about …meat.

     I’ve heard an expression about someone approaching a life form and categorizing it as “I can either **** [have sex with] it or eat it.”  Jokes about Mediterranean guys aside, life is wonderful, short, and it is what is.  Sex with a goat is nasty, roasted goat is tasty, and I believe that one day we’ll be able to stop having sex with and eating goats.  However, that day is not today.  It could and should be tomorrow, and good folk are working hard to make life, truth, justice, and 'science' better.  Yeah, we’re horny and hungry.  But, are we honest and are we practicing science?  Yes.

     We are our diets.  Science tells us that humans are omnivores, that is, we'll eat anything and everything.  Our dentition, the placement of our eyes, the size of our appendix, all suggest we fit between carnivores (meat-eaters) and herbivores (plant-eaters).  While we advance with the self-delusion of free will and personal choice, we are limited by biology.  Our need to eat is intractable.  What we eat (or who) is open to debate.

     Some years back, I attended a lecture by the late Prof. Richard Evans Schultes, director of the Harvard Botanical Museum.  A casually presented fact, that if science could figure out a way to separate protein from common yard leaves, America would have an endless and renewable food supply, has stayed with me.  That was over twenty years ago and every time I grab a rake I wonder why science hasn't done more.  I know, Soylent Green is people!  Fictions aside, science 'fact' is closing in on an alternative to killing animals for their meat – we’re going to grow ‘meat’ without all the bones, organs, face, suffering, and death thingies.  Actually, we already have, it’s just not tasty (or legal) yet.

     Being new or different has long been regarded as acceptable (unless one follows Ecc 1:9 and the “nothing new under the sun” approach).  Spanking is now a crime in many American states, regardless of who, what, where, and why.  [Insert expletive here.]  How?  The fall-out of a free society.  When N.O.W. (National Organization for Women) attempted to amend their by-laws to allow “consensual spanking” between adults, prudishness intervened and, I believe, the broads are still arguing about it.  However, whichever way the wind blows, as long as it’s still blowing, there’s hope through discussion.  A couple of years ago, in a most surprising and admirable move, P.E.T.A. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) offered a million dollar prize to anyone who could produce in vitro chicken meat that’s tasty by 2016.  Well, spank me!  I’m impressed!  [Insert chicks are into fake chicken joke here.]  In all honesty, I’m very proud that I live in a time and in a society that such necessary innovation is encouraged.  Now, about the money…

     The $10 million Ansari X Prize awarded in 2004 for a privately built spacecraft was a triumph of capitalism, the current $30 million Google Lunar X Prize offered for landing a robot on the Moon, having it travel 500 meters and successfully broadcast images back to Earth seems straightforward and achievable, and with P.E.T.A.’s million dollar prize being dangled we seem to be moving into an era of competition-based science.  I guess after 2400 years of Plato’s “Necessity, who is the mother of invention,” we’re transitioning into “Cash, it’s what makes scientists work better.”

     What began a dozen years ago as a theoretical model to feed astronauts on long space voyages (Benjaminson et al., 1998) was later actualized, at least partially (Benjaminson et al., 2010).  In 2001, or so, Dr. Morris Benjaminson of the Touro College School of Health Sciences (New York), grew some goldfish muscle cells, fried the chunks up in olive oil, added garlic, pepper, and a little lemon juice, and those present attested that it looked and smelled like …fish, but no one tasted it, as the “growing” process is still awaiting US Food and Drug Administration approval and to do so, would be illegal.  From published reports, Dr. Benjaminson is attempted to perfect a growth medium (perhaps made from mushrooms), and he has plans to attempt to grow chicken and beef.  Well, good luck, Dr. Benjaminson, if NASA ever really commits to going to Mars, your work will assuredly be needed, though if all else fails, I’ve a hunch that McDonald's® might be interested in your efforts.

     A few months back, the Dutch cultured some porcine myoblasts and grew pork in a dish.  For the non-kosher and halal crowd, and the sausage manufacturing company that’s supporting the endeavor, this is a step toward bacon without guilt.  However, and again, it is what it is, and ‘meat' is more than just murdered animal muscle tissue.  Example?  Kobe beef – the cows are fed oats and Guinness Extra Stout, watch cable television, get daily back-rubs from young Japanese girls, and listen to Frank Sinatra while they’re being killed and cut up into small, and way way expensive portions.  What makes Kobe beef so desirable is the muscle and fat marbling or blending.  Maybe it’s the back-rubs, but the fact is that muscle-meat needs exercise to incorporate fat and provide toothsomeness.  Scientists are currently considering using electrical currents to jolt those dish-muscle-meat-chunks into shape (read: make ‘em tasty).  Who would have thought One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest would be a recipe for tomorrow’s dinner?    

A hot dog, a classic hamburger, and an obscenely expensive sandwich. 

     It would be nice to live one’s life by a code such as “Friends don’t eat friends,” but there are times when one gets really really hungry.  No taboo without its relaxation, as it goes.  Hey, I’m Catholic and drinking blood (albeit fake and imaginary trans-something or other) is considered okay.  I respectfully refuse council and admit that I enjoy eating meat.  In 1996, or thereabouts, I was in southwestern Colorado researching Native American rock art, strolling through canyon country which looked like every cowboy movie and television program that I’d grown up with, when I …turned a canyon corner and …encountered several hundred head of cattle.  No little Bessies were these, they were big, huge, yeah, pretty much the largest cattle I’ve ever seen.  I turned the corner and saw them, and with creepy synchronous head-turning, they all looked at me at the same time.  A thousand or more eyes stared at me – an intruder.  Forget Catholic guilt, I swear all the cows could smell the ketchup in my blood…  I nodded politely, and turned around, walked, then ran quickly away.  Yeah, I felt guilty, but I also felt hungry…    

     I’m unsure if Iran launched non-humans into the up-and-up for science, culinary insights, or possible military applications.  I suspect it was a waste of meat.  The Persians are a fine and noble people and I will never believe that their government, elected or otherwise, defines them.  It’s sort of like, no, it is exactly like the rest of the world.  Money?  Power?  Punks all around, as what matters most is manners …and condiments.  That Heinz has reinvented the ketchup packet gives me hope that tomorrow may bring peace and a better, less violent, sandwich.

...oh yeah...

Anonymous.  1957.  "Dog Aboard Sputnik II."  The Science News-Letter.  72, 19: 292.
Barr, Norman.  1958.  "A Capsulated Monkey Blazes Trail for Mankind." Life.  December, 1958; p. 22.
Benjaminson, Morris Aaron et al.  1998.  "Bioconversion systems for food and water on long term space missions."  Morris Aaron
  Benjaminson, Stanley Lehrer and Danielle A. Macklin.  Acta Astronautica.  43, 3-6: 329-348.
Benjaminson, M. A. et al.  2010.  "In Vitro Edible Muscle Protein Production System (MPPS): Stage 1, Fish."  Acta Astronautica.  In Press
  (as of 2-28-10).
Burgess, Colin and Chris Dubbs.  2007.  Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle.  Berlin; New York: Springer.
Emurian, Henry H. and Joseph V. Brady.  2007.  "Behavioral Health Management of Space Dwelling Groups: Safe Passage Beyond Earth
  Orbit."  The Behavior Analyst Today.  8, 2: 113-135.  Available online at:
Flavin, R. D.  2008.  "Small Dog Nation."  Flavin's Corner.  May 7, 2008.  Available online at: http://www.flavinscorner.com/sdnation.htm.
Kihiss, Peter.  1957.  "Police Fight Pickets At Soviet Fete Here; POLICE HERE FIGHT PICKETS AT PARTY." New York Times.  November
  8, 1957; p. 1.
Krause, Ernst H.  1947.  “High Altitude Research with V-2 Rockets.”  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society.  91, 5: 439-446.
Love, Kennett.  1957.  "BRITONS PROTEST DOG IN SATELLITE; Soviet Embassy in Lonon Declares Many Russians Volunteered for Flight,
  Dog Called Limonchick, Dogs on Picket Line, Dulles to Get Protest."  New York Times.  November 5, 1957; p. 12.
Mooney, Richard E.  1958.  "Monkey in Army's Missile Fired 300 Miles in Space." New York Times.  December 14, 1958; p. c1.  NASA's
  "Animals in Space" web-page at http://history.nasa.gov/animals.html gives a figure of 600 miles.
Raymond, John C.  2009.  "Cosmic-Ray Acceleration in Supernova Remnants."  Science.  5941: 683-684. 


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