Animals have long been the experimental subjects of significant scientific endeavors, and space research is no exception.
To study the effects of microgravity on the biological functions of organisms, scientists have, time and again, sent various animals into space. Such animals include monkeys, dogs, guinea pigs, cats, frogs, beetles, spiders, newts, flies, worms, tortoises, urchins, snails, cockroaches, scorpions, butterflies, ants, bees, rabbits, jellyfish, brine shrimp, moths, crickets, and wasps.
Even before the first human could escape the Earth's outer atmosphere, animals were sent on space missions to test the feasibility and safety of launching a living organism into space and safely bringing it back to Earth. Be it the famed Soviet dog Laika or lesser-known fruitflies, animals of all sizes have continued to play a significant role in understanding the suitability of the hostile space environment for living beings. So, get on board for an interesting journey back in time and find out all about the first animals to embark on a journey to space!
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The First Animal In Space
Although not as popular as later non-human astronauts, the first animals intentionally carried into space were a group of fruit flies.
Sending animals to space was not quite a thing until, on February 20, 1947, many fruit flies were transported to space aboard a US-launched V-2 rocket. The flies were part of a research mission launched from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The rocket carrying the flies traveled 67 mi (108 km) above the Earth's surface before plummeting back to Earth. The Kármán Line, located about 62 mi (100 km) above the Earth's mean sea level, is where the Earth ends and space officially begins. Thus, the lucky fruit files are widely regarded as the first animals to have landed the opportunity of space travel!
Does that make you wonder why fruit flies were chosen as the first space animals out of all organisms?
To begin with, the flies' small size and light bodyweight made their storage easy and compact, thereby saving on fuel expenditure. Moreover, in those times, the effects of cosmic radiation on living matter were unknown. Since the fruit flies' genetic composition is almost similar to that of humans, the tiny insects served as the perfect test subjects for research. When the flies safely returned to Earth, it was found that radiation had no effect on their genes, which set the stage for future human space exploration.
The First Animal In Space By The USA
The first animal launched into space by a US V-2 rocket was a group of fruit flies. However, it was only the beginning.
Following the flies' successful space travel, the USA launched a rhesus monkey named Albert I into space on June 11, 1948. However, he died of suffocation in flight. Due to a lack of records, Albert I largely remains an unacknowledged animal astronaut. A year later after the original Albert's mission, another V-2 flight carried a second laboratory monkey named Albert II to an altitude of 83 mi (134 km) above Earth's surface. He was anesthetized and implanted with sensors to measure his vital signs during flight. Unfortunately, Albert II couldn't survive the impact. Again, on December 12, 1949, another monkey flight to space was launched from White Sands carrying Albert IV, a rhesus monkey. Although Albert's flight was successful, he died upon impact.
While none of the Alberts lived long enough after their space travels, a monkey named Yorick is famed for being the first monkey to survive a space flight. Yorick, along with 11 mice, were recovered alive on September 20, 1951, at the Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Yorick and his mice companions had traveled 236,000 ft (71.9 km) aboard an Aerobee missile flight. The US launched more monkeys into space in the following years, including two Philippines monkeys, Mike and Patricia, on May 22, 1952, and Sam, on December 4, 1959.
Apart from monkeys, the US also launched other animals like mice and chimpanzees into space. Ham became the first chimpanzee to go to space on January 31, 1961. He was launched aboard the Mercury Redstone rocket, which went on a sub-orbital flight. Ham's successful space travel paved the way for the roaring launch of America's first human space flight by Alan Sheperd on May 5, 1961.
The First Animal In Space By The Soviet Union
Unlike the US, the Soviet Program chose dogs for their space research programs mainly because they were less fidgety than monkeys, and stray dogs were abundant on the streets of Moscow.
During 1951-52, the Soviet R-1 series rockets carried a total of nine dogs into space, each flight carrying a pair in airtight containers. The first of the lot, Dezik and Tsygan, commenced their space journey on August 15, 1951, becoming the first canines to have made a suborbital flight. Following Dezik and Tsygan's successful retrieval, Dezik and Lisa were launched in September 1951. However, the Soviet Union's second dog flight into space was a failure since the pair died. It was followed by the third launch carrying Malyshka and Smelaya. The fourth launch that followed failed, and the dogs on board died. The fifth one was a success, and the sixth launch took place on September 15, 1951. The dog pair of the sixth launch reached 62 mi (100 km) and returned successfully.
The Story Of First Dog Astronaut Laika
Although not the first Soviet dog in space, one of the most famous non-human astronauts launched by the Soviet Space Program was a stray dog named Laika.
On November 3, 1957, Sputnik two was launched by the Soviet Union with its first non-human astronaut Laika. Laika safely orbited the Earth for seven days, becoming the first animal to undertake an orbital spaceflight around the Earth. Laika's stay in space also proved that it was possible for a living being to survive the stress of a space launch and live there for at least a week.
Laika's real name was Kudryavka which translates to Little Curly in English. She was a small stray mongrel from Moscow, and the Soviet scientists believed that a homeless animal would be better able to adapt to the harsh conditions of space travel. Laika underwent a hasty training and was put in a metal carrier to be carried aboard the Sputnik two. The spacecraft was well equipped with devices that would keep the carbon-dioxide levels and temperature under control, as well as enough stocked food to keep Laika alive for a week. Sadly, even though Laika survived up there for seven days, she couldn't make it back to Earth.
Several conflicting accounts surround the reason behind Laika's death. The Soviet Union initially reported that Laika died due to depleting oxygen levels or deliberately poisoned food. Later sources claimed that Sputnik two's temperature controls malfunctioning resulted in Laika's death on the fourth orbit of the Earth. Sputnik two and its dog occupant's remains eventually disintegrated in the Earth's upper atmosphere on April 14, 1958.
Did You Know?
The V-2 rockets that carried the first animals into space were actually the world's first long-range guided missiles used by the Germans during World War II.
Baker was the first squirrel monkey to be launched into space aboard an Army Jupiter missile on May 28, 1959. Aged 27, she died of kidney failure in 1984.
Félicette was the first cat launched into space. A stray Parisian cat, Félicette, was launched on October 18, 1963, as part of a French space program.
On November nine, 1970, NASA launched two bullfrogs into space to study how the amphibians experience space motion sickness.
In 1973, Anita and Arabella were two garden spiders used in an experiment to see if they could spin webs in space. Arabella spun a pretty symmetrical web, proving that webs could be spun in zero gravity.
On July 10, 1985, ten newts flew to space onboard a biomedical research mission satellite Bion seven. The animals' front limbs were amputated to study and understand space regeneration and how humans might recover from space injuries.
The first 20 minutes of the 1968 sci-fi movie '2001: A Space Odyssey' features tapirs and apes.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created many interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for animals space tour: first animals in space before humans landed, then why not take a look at Everything about fan dance: 7 famous fan dancers in history or Ferdinand Magellan facts for kids: lessons from his life?
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