Spacelab Life Sciences-3 (SLS-3) was scheduled to be the first United States man-tended microgravity flight containing Rhesus monkeys. The goal of this flight as in the five untended Russian COSMOS Bion flights and an earlier American Biosatellite flight, was to understand the biomedical and biological effects of a microgravity environment using the non-human primate as human surrogate. The SLS-3/Rhesus Project and COSMOS Primate-BIOS flights all utilized the rhesus monkey, Macaca mulatta. The ultimate objective of all flights with an animal surrogate has been to evaluate and understand biological mechanisms at both the system and cellular level, thus enabling rational effective countermeasures for future long duration human activity under microgravity conditions and enabling technical application to correction of common human physiological problems within earth's gravity, e.g., muscle strength and reloading, osteoporosis, immune deficiency diseases.
Hardware developed for the SLS-3/Rhesus Project was the result of a joint effort with the French Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) extending over the last decade. The flight hardware design and development required implementation of sufficient automation to insure flight crew and animal bio-isolation and maintenance with minimal impact to crew activities. A variety of hardware of varying functional capabilities was developed to support the scientific objectives of the original 22 combined French and American experiments, along with 5 Russian co-investigations, including musculoskeletal, metabolic, and behavioral studies. Unique elements of the Rhesus Research Facility (RRF) included separation of waste for daily delivery of urine and fecal samples for metabolic studies and a psychomotor test system for behavioral studies along with monitored food measurement. As in untended flights, telemetry measurements would allow monitoring of thermoregulation, muscular, and cardiac responses to weightlessness. In contrast, the five completed Cosmos/Bion flights, lacked the metabolic samples and behavioral task monitoring, but did facilitate studies of the neurovestibular system during several of the flights.
The RRF accommodated two adult 8-11 kg rhesus monkeys, while the Russian experiments and hardware were configured for a younger animal in the 4-6 kg range. Both the American and Russian hardware maintained a controlled environmental system, specifically temperature, humidity, a timed lighting cycle, and had means for providing food and fluids to the animal(s).
Crew availability during a Shuttle mission was to be an optimal condition for retrieval and refrigeration of the animal urine samples along with a manual calcein injection which could lead to greater understanding of bone calcium incorporation. A special portable bio-isolation glove box was under development to support this aspect of the experiment profile along with the capability of any contingency human intervention.
As a result of recent U.S./Russian negotiations, funding for Space Station, and a series of other events, the SLS-3 mission was canceled and applicable Rhesus Project experiments incorporated into the Russian Bion 11 and 12 missions. A presentation of the RRF and COSMOS/Bion rhesus hardware is presented along with current plans for the hardware.