John Gridunov, 80, for many years used to be the most temerarious tester of space technologies and extreme flight situations in the Soviet Union. Today, the man is really optimistic, healthy and brave. John is a strange name for a Russian. The man says his father named him John after famous American writer John Reed. All stories that John Gridunov tells about the risky testing in which he participated may sound sometimes incredible but he actually took part in all risky experiments aimed to improve space technique and making better conditions for astronauts.
In summer of 1965, doctors conducted the most risky experiment to find out what was the maximum overload in the area of chest and back that a human could bear. John Gridunov was certainly involved in the experiment. Doctors knew that testers could die any moment as the overload rising was slow that time which was harder for the human organism than fast overload rising.
Doctor Ada Kotovskaya stood near the operating console together with the centrifuge operator. She continuously sent the light signal to an electric lamp fixed in front of the tester staying inside of the centrifuge. And the tester in his turn immediately pressed the button of a device in his hands to inform he was conscious and controlled the situation. John Gridunov tells that during that experiment he concentrated all of his will to resist the huge press squeezing his body. Then he felt his thoughts confused. The tester was still conscious but he did not feel that his nose, ears and lower part of the body were bleeding. One moment he saw the dark abyss opened wide before the eyes, and bright lightnings were running through it. It was the last thing that John Gridunov remembered before he soon lost consciousness.
When the experiment was over and the tester came to his senses, doctors said that he fixed the record result and endured the overload of 19 units. And it was a great result taking into consideration the fact that the overload rising was very slow. It is astonishing that within more than 40 years since the experiment the record have never been exceeded. Doctor Ada Kotovskaya says that Gridunov’s remarkable health and will-power helped him achieve the unprecedented results in the experiment conducted inside of the centrifuge.
John Gridunov was not a permanent tester. He was the club chief at the Aviation and Space Medicine Research Institute. Since his early age, John revealed wonderful artistic talent and wanted to perform on the stage. He is still a wonderful narrator, singer and dancer. After serving in the army (and he served in the aviation regiment at the end of WWII), John Gridunov entered Zhukovsky’s Aviation Academy. When he realized that aviation engineering was not his vocation he began to work at the club of the Aviation and Space Medicine Research Institute. The man confesses that he loves everything connected with risk, and he enthusiastically participated in testing of complex and dangerous space technique.
John Gridunov set up really incredible records of which the authors of the Guinness Book of World Records seem to be still unaware. The man tested protective characteristics of a special outfit, and for this purpose he stayed in ice water for 13 hours and 25 minutes. John moved his legs and arms at times to get warm but still he suffered from severe supercooling. During the experiment doctors fixed that the tester’s body temperature made up 34.3 centigrade degrees and feet temperature dropped to 5 centigrade degree.
In 1965, when Soviet space engineers were working on a manned mission around the Moon John Gridunov participated in another very important experiment. Engineers wanted to find out if astronauts in case of emergency would survive within 7 days in the rarefied atmosphere of a spaceship and with too high temperature inside of their space suits. The brave man put on a space suit and stayed inside of a thermal vacuum chamber for more than seven days. Inside of the chamber, engineers generated deep vacuum that corresponded the height of 30 kilometers. The heat removing for some reason failed, and the temperature inside of John’s space suit was as high as in Sahara . Later the tester told that he could not sleep for the first four days of the experiment, then he dropped off for half an hour and felt he reconditioned. John was fed through a special tube in his pressure helmet. One day some food leaked and immediately got out of order in the hot temperature. So, John had to breathe with the terrible stink. He was sweating all over, the underwear was wet and the space suit did not let moisture out. What is more, the sewage facilities had no colostomy bag which created some problem for the man’s defecation. But the experiment was a success, and the tester proved that in case of emergency on a Russian spaceship astronauts would hold out for over seven days, the period within which the spaceship rounds the Moon and gets back to the Earth. It is a pity that Soviet mission around the Moon never took place at all!
John Gridunov also tells a lot about the most traumatic and risky experiments, about hard overload shock in particular. Space engineers realized that the cabin of a spaceship must be designed so that astronauts could stay alive in case the brake fails and a spaceship hits the ground.
A unique test bench was designed especially for the experiment to imitate landing on soft, medium and hard ground. Unfortunately, experts possessed not all necessary knowledge at that time, and it could happen so that experiments ended in spine injuries.
Three regular testers and a free-lance one were involved into the experiment. John Gridunov was the free-lance tester. The experiment imitated falling of a spaceship on the ground, and the overload shock was gradually increased. After half of the experiment, the three regular testers refused to continue. John Gridunov continued and fixed unprecedented results when endured the overload shock equal to 50 units. The man had no serious injuries after the experiment, he just suffered from terrible headache for several days because he improperly breathed during a stage of the experiment.
But it is known that other people got graver injuries during similar experiments. According to expert estimates, about one thousand of people, basically regular testers, took part in experiments involving space technique within the past decades. Unfortunately, there is no public documents saying how many of them were injured and became disabled. But it is for sure that for hundreds of testers their job was really dangerous and harmful.
But engineers also emphasize that there would be more negative consequences if such experiments were not first conducted involving animals. In the early 1960s, engineers had no notion how a human organism would react to overload in case the vertical pressure particularly affected the chest-back area. No calculations gave an accurate account of probable injuries that could be caused to internal organs. Only experiments could help find the accurate account . First experiments of the kind were conducted involving dead bodies of young men who tragically died but still had their spines safe. Dead bodies were attached to seats and thrown down from a very high position. At that, engineers regulated the shock absorption while landing with the help of crashers. After dropping the bodies they were delivered to a dissecting room where morbid anatomists extracted injured spines for further investigation and inserted plastic spines instead. Then the bodies were brought back to the Sklifosofsky Institute of Emergency Medicine from where they were originally taken. Experts needed the experiments to know at what angle a seat of an astronaut must be fixed so that a man could survive in case of hard landing. Specialists who conducted such experiments said that in some cases human spines broke as easy as a reed. About 15 or 20 dead bodies were involved into the experiments that were really essential for further space engineering and manned space flights.
John Gridunov says it is strange that for some reason it is kept secret that testing of space engineering involved dead bodies. The tester adds that only thanks to such experiments cosmonautics got the safe system of soft landing.
Translated by Maria Gousseva