Spaceflight for Dummies

Article written by: Phil Hall


Two weeks ago, a space-suited mannequin was strapped inside a cherry red car, the car was strapped inside a rocket, and the whole lot was launched into space. Although the shiny convertible might be the first of its kind in space, the mannequin, dubbed ‘Spaceman’, is most definitely not. That title belongs to a Russian-made dummy who left Earth’s atmosphere weeks before the first human.

Spaceman in space (SpaceX)

 

The dummy cosmonaut, nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich, was manufactured by the Moscow Prosthetic Appliances Works. To test the spacesuit and ejection processes that would be used in the first human spaceflight, he was rigged up with various sensors, as well as being filled with live mice and literal guinea pigs.

Ivan Ivanovich on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (SI 97-16252-3 / Owner: Smithsonian Institution / Source: National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution / Photographer: Eric Long)

 

His first flight was on 9 March 1961. Before takeoff, he was dressed in a bright orange spacesuit and white helmet and secured in the ejector seat of the Korabl-Sputnik 4 spacecraft. After a successful launch and a single orbit around the Earth, the spacecraft’s re-entry module re-entered the atmosphere. Soon after, Ivan was ejected and a parachute deployed to soften his landing –- in this case, back in Russia, in a region covered in snow. The freezing conditions delayed his recovery. Fortunately, his helmet contained a sign with the word ‘Maket’ (Russian for ‘dummy’) so that anyone who discovered him in the meantime did not mistake him for a corpse.

After completing another successful launch, orbit, landing and recovery on 25 March 1961, Ivan was seemingly retired in favour of human cosmonauts. He was auctioned for $187,500 in 1993 and since 1997 has been on show at the Smithsonian Space and Air Museum in Washington, DC.

The flights undertaken by Ivan were essential to testing key systems and gave the USSR the confidence to launch the first human spaceflight. The significance of the SpaceX mannequin Spaceman is yet to be seen.