Last Updated on October 8, 2023 by Project Archinaut
Space travel has always captivated our imagination.
While humans have made great strides in exploring the cosmos, we often forget that animals in space have also played a vital role.
From mice to monkeys, these intrepid creatures have helped advance science and paved the way for human spaceflight.
1. Laika – The First Official Dog and Animal in Space
On November 3, 1957, a stray dog named Laika became the first animal in space and to orbit Earth. The Soviet Union launched her aboard Sputnik 2 to test whether living organisms could survive launch and weightlessness.
Sadly, Laika’s trip was one-way only. The technology to return from orbit did not exist yet. Her voyage showed that animals could tolerate spaceflight and paved the way for human missions. Though she lived only a few hours in orbit, Laika demonstrated remarkable courage as mankind’s first pioneer in space. Her sacrifice advanced science and will always be remembered.
2. Ham – First chimpanzee in space
On January 31, 1961, a chimpanzee named Ham became the first hominid in space. Trained by the U.S. Air Force, Ham flew aboard the Mercury-Redstone 2 spacecraft on a suborbital flight. During the 16-minute mission, he experienced 6 minutes of weightlessness and performed trained tasks to prove that higher primates could function during spaceflight.
The success of Ham’s mission three months before Alan Shepard’s flight bolstered confidence in human space travel. Though Ham lived until 1983, his bold accomplishment remains an important milestone in space exploration. He showed the world that mankind’s closest animal relatives could survive the rigors of launch and microgravity.
3. Enos – First chimpanzee to orbit Earth
On November 29, 1961, Enos became the first chimpanzee to orbit the Earth. After undergoing extensive training with NASA, Enos was launched aboard Mercury-Atlas 5 for a 2-orbit flight lasting just under 3 hours. Though a malfunction caused his capsule to experience higher temperatures than expected, Enos performed well during the mission.
He correctly responded to lights and sounds by pressing levers, proving that chimpanzees could complete assigned tasks throughout an orbital spaceflight. Enos’ accomplishment occurred just 6 months before John Glenn successfully orbited the Earth. The data collected from Enos’ mission further validated that human orbital spaceflight was feasible.
4. Felicette – First cat in space
On October 18, 1963, a black and white cat named Felicette became the first feline to go to space. She was launched aboard a French Véronique AG1 rocket on a suborbital flight that reached 155 miles above Earth. During her brief flight, Felicette’s vital signs were monitored to study the effects of spaceflight on living organisms.
Though she experienced several minutes of weightlessness, Felicette showed no signs of distress. After parachuting safely back to Earth, she lived several more years before passing away in 1967. Felicette’s mission proved that animals could survive the stresses of spaceflight, paving the way for more ambitious animal experiments in orbit.
5. Albert II – First monkey in space
On June 14, 1949, a rhesus macaque named Albert II became the first monkey launched into space. He was aboard a U.S.-built V-2 rocket that reached an altitude of 83 miles. Albert II survived the launch but died on impact when the rocket crashed back to Earth. Though the mission ended tragically, it provided valuable data on the biological effects of spaceflight. Later monkey missions implemented improved safety measures and achieved successful recovery. Miss Baker and Able were the first monkeys to survive spaceflight and return safely in 1959. After Albert II’s sacrifice, monkeys continued to play a vital role in testing space conditions before human astronauts.
6. Belka and Strelka – First dogs to orbit Earth and return alive
On August 19, 1960, the Soviet dogs Belka and Strelka became the first living creatures to orbit the Earth and return safely. They were accompanied by a gray rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats, flies, and several plants and fungi on the Sputnik 5 spacecraft. The historic mission lasted a day and provided valuable biological data on the effects of spaceflight.
Belka and Strelka survived the launch, orbit, and re-entry in good health. After their triumphant space mission, the celebrated canine heroes went on to have puppies together. One of the puppies, named Pushinka, was gifted to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline. The success of Belka and Strelka paved the way for human spaceflight missions.
7. Miss Baker – First squirrel monkey in space
On May 28, 1959, a squirrel monkey named Miss Baker became the first primate to return safely from spaceflight. Along with her companion Able, a rhesus macaque, Miss Baker flew on the Jupiter AM-18 rocket in a mission that lasted just over 16 minutes. The two monkeys rode in the nose cone of the rocket, and although the flight was successful, Able died days later during surgery to remove an infected medical electrode.
Miss Baker lived until 1984 and is remembered for her contributions to space medicine. She was the first monkey who proved that primates could survive the stresses of spaceflight, paving the way for human space missions. After her historic journey, Miss Baker went on display at naval air stations and became a celebrity guest on TV shows.
8. Fruit flies – The first insects in space
On February 20, 1947, a V-2 rocket carried a payload of fruit flies, becoming the first insects launched into space. These common Drosophila melanogaster flies were chosen for their well-understood genetics and short life cycles. The purpose of the experiment was to study the effects of radiation exposure at high altitudes. The fruit flies were loaded into a container with nutrient gel and air to sustain them during the short flight.
The rocket reached an altitude of 68 miles, subjecting the flies to just a few minutes of weightlessness and cosmic radiation. Upon return, the flies were studied closely for genetic mutations that could provide insights into radiation’s impacts on biological organisms.
Amazingly, many of the flies survived the journey and lived full lifespans afterward with no apparent ill effects. This historic flight proved insects could endure the harsh conditions of space, paving the way for further insect-based experiments that have contributed greatly to biomedical and technological advancements over the decades.
9. Mice – Part of the study on mammalian reproduction in space
On August 25, 1959, the first mice were launched into space as part of a study on the effects of radiation and zero gravity on mammalian reproduction. A Jupiter IRBM rocket carried a payload of two female mice named Sally and Amy. After reaching an altitude of 494 miles, the re-entry vehicle safely returned the mice to Earth. Remarkably, both mice survived the journey and were found to be in good health.
They even later gave birth to healthy litters showing space travel had not negatively impacted their reproductive abilities. This was a promising result suggesting mammalian reproduction could occur normally even after exposure to the stresses of spaceflight. The mice paved the way for the first monkey, Albert II, to be launched into space later that same year. Continuing animal studies in space has been invaluable for furthering scientific understanding and enabling future human space missions.
10. Newts – Studied muscle mass loss in space
In late 1985, a group of newts joined the animals in the space program. The goal was to study muscle mass loss due to prolonged exposure to microgravity environments. Newts were selected because they can regenerate tissues and limbs, making them ideal models. During the mission, some newts were exposed to normal Earth gravity while others experienced complete weightlessness.
As expected, the newts in microgravity lost significant muscle mass and strength compared to those on Earth. However, the space newts were able to recover after returning to Earth. Since newts can rebuild tissues easily, researchers gained insight into strategies for counteracting muscle atrophy in humans. This research provided a greater understanding of the biological effects of spaceflight and supported developments to mitigate risks.
11. Spiders – Studied web construction in space
Spiders hitched a ride to space in 1973 during the Skylab 3 mission. NASA wanted to observe how weightlessness would affect web construction. Two garden spiders were flown to the space station and provided with frameworks to build webs on. In the microgravity environment, the spiders had difficulty adapting at first. However, over time, they learned to spin symmetrical webs like on Earth.
Scientists found that while the space spiders struggled with web construction initially, they could still draw upon innate web-spinning capabilities. The results suggested that some behaviors in creatures may be hardwired genetically rather than learned. Observing the spiders provided insights into how microgravity impacts perception, orientation, and locomotion in living organisms.
12. Turtles – Observed motion sickness in space
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, NASA took some of our turtle friends to space to learn about motion sickness. They picked us turtles because our balance and spatial orientation system is a lot like humans’. On two different Space Shuttle trips, two of our red-eared slider buddies got to float around in a special home that let them swim without gravity pulling them down.
The humans watched our friends really closely when they went up, when they were floating around, and when they came back down. Our turtle pals acted a bit like the astronauts when they felt motion sick, doing things like throwing up and moving their heads in a funny way. What the humans learned from our friends helped them figure out how to stop astronauts from feeling so sick in space. Thanks to our turtle buddies, there were more studies on how floating around without gravity affects balance in different animals.
13. Fish – Studied development and behavior in microgravity
Scientists flew fish into space to study the effects of microgravity on development, physiology, and behavior. In the 1990s, they sent zebrafish eggs into orbit on the Space Shuttle to observe their development without Earth’s gravity. Amazingly, the zebrafish hatched in space, but they displayed some abnormalities compared to Earth-bound fish.
The embryos exhibited differences in muscle development and behavior. Researchers have also studied adult fish in space. They took Medaka fish to the International Space Station to investigate the effects of microgravity on the skeletal system. They found that the medaka experienced bone loss in space, similar to astronauts. These fish studies offer insights into how microgravity affects vertebrates, including humans, at different life stages.
Was a monkey the first animal in space?
No, the first animal in space were fruit flies launched aboard a V-2 rocket in 1947.
Is Laika the dog still in space?
No, Laika died within hours of being launched into space aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957. Her body burned up in the atmosphere.
What was the first thing sent to space?
The first man-made object sent into space was the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1, launched in October 1957.
Animals have significantly contributed to space exploration. From fruit flies to dogs to monkeys, sending animals into space has given us crucial data on the biological effects of spaceflight. While some of these animal missions ended tragically, they laid the groundwork for human spaceflight. As we aim to explore deeper into space, we must remember the contributions of these pioneering animal astronauts.