Though not as popular as humans, animals were the first creatures to land in space. Before humans could make the first space launch, they wanted to know how well they would survive for prolonged periods of weightlessness. Russian and American scientists used animals to test their ability to send a living creature into space and bring it back alive.
The First Animal Astronauts
Not counting any bacteria that may have hijacked the ride to space; the first known animals in space were fruit flies. They were aboard German V-2 rockets. The scientists used them to study radiation exposure at high altitudes. The fruit flies attained a distance of 68 miles in 10 seconds. They were captured alive by parachute.
Monkeys in Space
Albert II was the first monkey in space. He left on June 4th, 1969. He reached an altitude of 83 miles but died on impact due to a parachute failure. The first monkey to be used in these experiments was Albert I, who passed on before attaining peak altitude. Two other monkeys also passed on, Albert III and IV when their rockets broke down. Thirty-two monkeys have flown in space, including rhesus macaques, squirrel monkeys, cynomolgus monkeys, and pig-tailed monkeys.
Mice in Space
The first mouse was launched on August 15th, 1950, and reached an altitude of 85 miles. It died when the rocket disintegrated because of parachute break down. Many other mice were sent during the 1950s.
Dogs in Space
The Soviet Union launched 12 dogs to space during the 1950s. The dogs were sent on different suborbital flights. Stray dogs were used for the flights since they were thought to have an excellent defense against extreme cold conditions.
Laika – the First Animal to Orbit the Earth
Laika was the first living being to orbit the earth. She was a Siberian stray dog. Laika was rescued on the streets of Moscow. She was trained alongside the other two dogs for space travel. They were kept in small cages and fed on a notorious gel that would be their food while in space. Unfortunately, Laika’s journey was one-way because of a failed re-entry plan. She may have been in space for a few days, hours or until when her life-support system gave up.
First Animals on a Successful Space Flight
On May 28th, 1959, Able and Barker made history by becoming the first animals to return to earth after a space flight successfully. The monkeys survived a 16-minute fight and were weightless for 9 minutes.
Talk of animal astronauts!