Surprising Facts About Animals That Went to Space

The process began with fruit flies to check for radiation effects, as of course radiation is dangerous to humans and scientists still didn’t know if there was a higher chance of exposure.

Animals can be trained for some really incredible things. But did you know that a few were even trained to go into space? 

Fruit flies were actually the first living beings we sent into space. They went up on a V2 rocket in 1942. The fruit flies went 67 miles into space, and once retrieved, it was observed that the flies’ DNA had not been altered in any way. This meant we could probably send humans up as well! 

But first, America and Russia decided to play it on the safe side. Both countries sent up many animals to make sure it would be safe for humans. Monkeys, mice, dogs, and even jellyfish, just to name a few. Sadly, these flights never returned to Earth as they were on suborbital flights. 

The first mammal to be sent whirling up into space was the primate Albert II, who was launched in a V2 rocket in 1949. The primate, unfortunately, died on impact due to a failure in his parachute deployment. 

You may have heard of the dog Laika. She was a stray dog from Moscow who was chosen with the belief that a homeless animal would deal better with the horrendous conditions of space travel. Pretty scary for the pup, if you ask me. 

The pup traveled up in Sputnik 2, which had many innovations to keep her alive: an oxygen generator, a fan, and enough food for the entirety of her journey, seven days. 

Sadly, just like her primate predecessor, Laika would also not return to Earth as she disintegrated along with Sputnik 2 upon re-entry into Earth’s orbit on April 14, 1958.

It wasn’t until 1960 that animals would survive a treacherous space journey. That year, Strelka and Belka were carried by Sputnik 5 and were the first living beings to return safely to Earth.

In 1961, the Americans sent up the primate known as Ham. Ham’s work in space led to the first American, Alan Shepard, to enter space on May 5, 1961

One month before, in April, the Soviets beat the Americans in sending the first human into space – Yuri Gagarin. He traveled to outer space on April 12, 1961, where he would spend one hour and forty-eight minutes! He also returned safely to Earth, floating back in a parachute after re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. 

From fruit flies to humans, all in a little under two decades. Pretty impressive, don’t you think?