The Tale of the Time-Traveling Cephalopod

As you may know, it took nearly ten years of trial and error to complete the Tipler Dome, and a lot of ingenuity on the part of our engineers and physicists. More than 100 people were involved in the effort. Even after the machine was finished and could successfully make trips back in time then return to the present (it can’t jump ahead of the present—at least not yet), there was still more testing to do. We needed to know it would be safe to send people back in it!

The very first time traveler was Q1-2, a white mouse bred in our labs and nicknamed Budge. Staying behind with us was Budge’s twin sister, Q1-3, or Munch. Sending Budge one million years back in time while Munch remained in the present allowed the scientists to compare the physiology of the two mice post-travel. When Budge returned intact from her weeklong stay in the distant past, our scientists were very excited to see that the only change was a loss of appetite.

Next, we sent back a cohort of mice—six in all—to live for three months on an island off the coast of Antarctica. That location was chosen so the dome wouldn’t be disturbed by any other fauna (and our mice were kept warm through a solar-powered heater). Once again, all six animals survived with few detrimental side effects. 

To test different physiologies, the next passenger to ride in the Tipler Dome was Octopus vulgaris, a common octopus named Salvador Dalí. Of all the animal travelers that visited the past, Salvador was the only one who came close to escaping. After turning dark brown in response to the jump back, Salvador gradually went back to his normal orangey-red color and began exploring the dome. The room was set up to allow him to leave his aquarium and explore, and this intrepid little cephalopod made it all the way to the door and attempted to unhinge the latch. Luckily our scientists designed it so that the machine could only be opened from the outside, so Salvador didn’t escape into the past!

Our most formidable challenge came when we began sending back trained capuchins. These fuzzy monkeys were trained to complete cognitive tests upon their arrival in the past, and were then rewarded with grapes. If they suffered any distress, they could press a button that would register in our lab in the present, and we would bring them back. The first capuchin subject, Lucky, pushed the button almost immediately. The scientists discovered he was suffering from internal bleeding, and were able to save his life with their quick response. But what had caused the bleeding? It took weeks of tests to understand the problem. The Tipler Dome had caused acute hemochromatosis—the capuchin had too much iron in his body. Something about time travel caused blood to pool in his abdominal cavity.

To solve the problem, the researchers next sent back a capuchin who had been placed on a reduced-iron diet for two months. This time our subject, Napoleon, didn’t press the distress signal until he’d been in the past for a week. Once again, he was suffering from internal bleeding. It wasn’t until the scientists decided to place a capuchin on a severely iron-reduced diet that the subject made it without any ill effects. Opal survived the journey, ate her iron supplements for the first week of her time in the past, and came back after two months with no health issues. (We’ll be writing about the time-travel diet our achroniologists followed in the next couple weeks. Check back here to read about it!)

The last animal partner to go back in time was Henrietta, a bonobo. She followed the same iron-reduction regimen as Opal and safely arrived at her destination, one million years in the past. Unlike the others, Henrietta hopscotched to different time periods and places to test how that would affect our human travelers. She completed all the cognitive assessments at every stop and arrived back home after six months of traveling. The only complaint she signed to her handler when she returned: “Not enough kiwis to eat.”