The Rich History Of Animals Launched Into Space

Photo courtesy of Andrew via Flickr

Beyond astronauts, satellites, and rocketships, living creatures of all types have been launched into space for various reasons.

The launching of animals into space is a historic activity that actually precedes human space travel. Here’s a closer look at the many living organisms humankind has thought to send on missions outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, why they did it, and how it turned out.

In the 1940s…

Well before manned missions, scientists were attempting to test aeronautic exploration and high altitude exposure. And as is true with most science experiments — animals first!

In 1947, fruit flies became the first living organisms in outer space,
launched by the U.S. V-2 rocket to test high altitude radiation. The insects were parachuted back to Earth alive after their brief adventure in space.

In 1949, monkeys were sent to space for the first time, with the U.S.’ rhesus monkey Albert II successfully reaching space before dying on impact due to a parachute failure.

In the 1950s…

The United States continued to launch monkeys into space at a not-so-great success rate — about two-thirds died either during the mission or soon after landing. Several mice were sent on test missions as well.

[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”5Ff5EdeJ12coOvjssaIEWm7KXgqFbtur”]In 1951, the Soviet Union sent the first dogs into space with a successful mission that launched pups Gypsy and Desik into space and returned them safely, making them the first higher-beings to survive a space flight.

In 1957, the Soviet Union sent another special dog, named Laika, aboard the Soviet Sputnik into orbit, making her the first living creature to orbit the Earth. She died in space (as was intended), because the technology for a return trip had not been developed yet.

In 1959, the U.S. finally perfected its monkey business when primates Able and Baker were sent on a 16 minute space flight, 9 of which they were weightless during, before returning unharmed to Earth.

In the 1960s…

In 1960, the Soviet Union sent the closest thing yet to Noah’s Arc aboard Sputnik 5, which carried two dogs, two rats, 40 mice, 15 flasks of fruit flies, plants, and just one rabbit for some reason. The animals were the first to enter orbit and return alive and well.

1961: The US sent Ham the Chimp into space, then later Enos the Chimp became the first monkey in orbit. The chimps were trained via electric shock to perform some basic functions of the missions. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union launched more dogs, frogs, mice, and for the first time, a guinea pig. France sent up a rat named Hector.

1962-63: France launched two more rats, followed the next year by the first (and only) cat in space, Félicette, on a 15 minute space rendezvous from which she was recovered successfully.

1964-66: China gets in on the game; launches mice, rats, and two dogs. In 1966, Russia sent two dogs to space for the longest duration of time thus far — 22 days.

1967-68: The US launched a biosatellite menagerie of things you wouldn’t want in your bed (fruit flies, wasps, beetles, frog eggs, bacteria, fungi), and the Soviet Union sent the first animals into deep space, including the first space tortoise and various biological specimens.

In 1969, Argentina launched a monkey named Juan into space as part of “Operation Christmas” — because there is no better Christmas gift than a space monkey.

In the 1970s, 80s, 90s…

In the 70s, bullfrogs, nematodes, fish, and spiders made their space debut, and Russia broke a duration record with its 90 day tortoise mission in 1975.

In the 80s, Russian newt amputees were launched to study the rate of regeneration in space.

In the 90s, China launched guinea pigs into space, a Japanese journalist brought some tree frogs to the space station Mir, and Japan launched newts. Also aboard space stations this decade were crickets, snails, sea urchins, quail eggs, brine shrimp, jellyfish and other creatures.

In the 2000s…

More firsts: silkworms, harvester ants, hissing cockroaches, and butterflies in space.

In 2007, an EU mission had “water bears” survive 10 days of open space exposure with only their natural protection, and a Russian cockroach became the first creature to reproduce in space.

In 2010, Iran became the latest country to launch animals into space by sending a mouse, two turtles, and some worms to space and back safely; in 2013, the country reportedly sent two monkeys, and is contemplating sending up a Persian cat next.

Lastly, in 2014, Russia launched geckos into orbit to study zero-gravity reproduction. After losing and later regaining control over the satellite, it was revealed that all five geckos sadly froze to death.

Originally published on November 14, 2014. 

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