Before Neil Armstrong walked on the surface of the moon, or Yuri Gagarin entered outer space, several animals had already visited the outer reaches of the atmosphere. Unfortunately, not all of them were a complete success. However, only because of these animals were we able to determine the exact conditions favourable for our survival in outer space. Based on these observations we built our spacecraft that would allow humans to overcome the extreme conditions out there. The test subjects not only included dogs and chimps, but fruit flies, mice, cats and even rabbits were sent as explorers to outer space.
Right since the time we achieved flight using aircraft and hot air balloons, animals were sent to high altitudes to test the conditions. The same tests were carried out when we built rockets and fruit flies were sent off to outer space on a V2 rocket on February 20, 1947. These fruit flies became the first living beings in outer space and they landed back safely in parachutes after reaching a height of 108 kilometres. With the development of rocket engines, the space race officially kicked off and the world saw numerous experiments being conducted to one day send a man to space. Among those animals that were sent on these space missions, there were a few who broke and achieved new records. You must have definitely heard about Laika the dog, who was the first living being to orbit the Earth, and now, we’ll be going through the other non-human pioneers of space travel.
On June 14, 1949, Albert II was launched aboard a V2 rocket to a height 134 kilometres, becoming the first monkey in space. The previous candidate Albert was also launched on a similar rocket but the capsule only made it to a height of 63 kilometres and he probably died right after launch.
Albert II was able to reach the final height alive, but a problem with the parachute led to his death due to the force of impact.
As the Soviet Union prepared for their second satellite launch with the Sputnik 2, the plans also included a living passenger on board. Dogs were the chosen candidates for the space mission. Stray dogs were the most favourable since they were tough enough to survive the extreme outdoors, indicating that they could do the same for outer space.
Among all the stray dogs, Laika was finally chosen to become the first dog and living being to orbit the Earth. Finally, on the evening of November 3, 1957, Sputnik 2 blasted off from Kazakhstan with her on board. Although the launch was a success, Laika couldn’t survive the overwhelming stress and heat after several hours into the flight and passed away.
Belka and Strelka
Dogs were still being chosen for random spaceflights with stray dogs still making the cut. But none of them had ever survived while on their journey back to Earth. The Sputnik 5 mission became a monumental mission in space exploration when all the passengers came back to Earth alive. The most important travellers included two special dogs Belka and Strelka.
They made history on August 19, 1960, becoming two among the many living beings to survive a journey to orbit and back to Earth. This mission boosted everyone’s confidence that we were close to having a manned-space mission soon. The other passengers included 42 mice, two rats, a grey rabbit and fruit flies. Quite an ensemble!
Able and Baker
Able, a rhesus monkey, and Baker, a squirrel monkey, were launched on a Jupiter missile to a sub-orbital flight on May 28, 1959. They safely landed, becoming the first animals to survive a spaceflight mission.
However, Able died after four days during a surgery. On the other hand, Baker lived a healthy life until the age of 27. Fun fact: The space monkey in the Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian was based on Able.
Ham and Enos
Manned spaceflight missions owe a good deal to two chimpanzees named Ham and Enos. Ham became the first chimp in space on January 31, 1961, while on a sub-orbital trajectory in a Mercury Redstone rocket. Ham survived the mission and the journey to Earth, depicted in the picture with the recovery ship commander in the famous “handshake” gesture.
This mission was followed by Alan Shepherd, who was the first American to travel to a sub-orbital path. After Ham, Enos became the first chimp to orbit Earth on November 29, 1961. The mission was planned for three orbits but due to overheating issues and a malfunctioning test, it was aborted.
When it came to sending animals into space, the Soviet Union frequently kept sending dogs while the US experimented with chimps. While both the nations were battling the space race, France’s Centre national d’études sent a cat named Felicette into space.
On October 18, 1963, the liquid-fueled French Véronique AG1 rocket took the feline subject to a height of 156 kilometres which was a non-orbital mission. She landed on Earth safely and was the only cat to be sent to space.
Veterok and Ugolyok
Dogs being the most popular candidates for space missions by the Soviet Union, they hold the most records. Holding the record for the longest space flight duration, the two canines Veterok and Ugolyok, spent 22 days orbiting the Earth.
They were sent into orbit to study the effects of radiation as they travelled through the Van Allen radiation belt. After successfully completing their mission, they landed safely on March 16, 1966. Both of them still hold the record to this day.