In the early days of rocket science, the scientists were clueless about the effects of the space environment on humans. So, they had to send animals into space to test the safety and viability of launching humans into space and bringing them back unharmed.
10 Animal Astronauts in Space
Let us learn about some animals that have got the honour of being astronauts.
1. Fruit flies
On February 20, 1947, the United States sent some fruit flies into space to study radiation exposure at high altitudes.
Laika, a stray Russian stray dog, went to space on November 3, 1957. Soviet scientists assumed that a stray dog would have already learned to endure harsh conditions of hunger and cold temperatures.
Albert I was the first monkey astronaut to be launched into space. He left for his historical space trip from a NASA space station in New Mexico on June 11, 1948. After Albert I, three more of his cousins—Albert II, III and IV—also got a chance to visit space in the following year. Gordo, a squirrel monkey, orbited the Earth in the year 1958 and Able, a Rhesus monkey, set out on his journey into the stars on May 28, 1959.
It was not only the Russians and the Americans that were sending animals into space; in the 1960s, the French scientists were also planning to send a stray cat called Felix into space. But, perhaps Felix got cold feet on hearing about her impending trip to space and ran away from the space station. So, another cat called Felicette was trained to go into space and was launched on October 18, 1963 to orbit the Earth. She was the first kitty in the cosmos.
The United States sent a European garden spider couple named Arabella and Anita to visit the space on July 28, 1973. The scientists wanted to study the effect of being in the Earth’s orbit on their web-spinning abilities.
5. Bull frogs
In 1970, NASA sent some bull frogs to space to collect information about the effects of weightlessness on the brain.
Some rats have also had the privilege of getting decorated as astronauts. Hector, the rat, was launched in the 1960s by France. Albino rats were a popular choice for space travel in the 1980s.
The first tortoises to holiday in the space were a pair of Russian tortoises that were launched in 1968.
The first rabbit in space was Marfusha, a Russian rabbit, who went into space with two of her canine in-flight companions. These animals left for their space mission on July 2, 1959.
In 1985, the USSR launched some newts with amputated forelimbs into space to study the process of regeneration. Newts are amphibians that belong to the salamander family and closely resemble lizards. They have the unique ability to re-generate their limbs, if severed accidentally.
The first chimp in space was Ham, who was launched on January 31, 1961, riding an American Mercury capsule.
Many more animals like fish, jelly fish, guinea pigs, wasps, beetles and cockroaches have also been sent into space for studying the effects of the space environment on these organisms. Without these organisms, it would have been really difficult to find out what is it like to go into space and make the space flights safer for humankind. These animals are truly the unsung heroes and heroines of the space programs.