First Animals in Space
First Animals in Space
When most people are asked about the first animal in space, they usually name the monkeys and dogs that tested out the space environment before Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard flew.
Those are good guesses, but they are wrong. The first animals in space were fruit flies that were sent aloft by the United States using a captured German V-2 rocket on Feb. 20, 1947. The rocket lofted the Blossom capsule to an altitude of 68 miles (109 km) on a brief suborbital flight. Blossom separated from the rocket and parachuted to Earth. Scientists discovered the fruit flies alive and well, unhurt by either the high acceleration or the radiation of space.
Researchers soon moved on to larger animals -- although not always with such good results. A Rhesus monkey named Albert died during a flight in 1948 when his capsule’s parachute failed. Albert II was sent to an even higher altitude of 83 miles (134 km) on June 14, 1949. Sadly, it suffered the same fate as the parachute failed.
The following year, the United States launched a mouse aboard a V-2. That flight also suffered a parachute failure, killing the subject. However, researchers obtained photographs of the mouse’s behavior in zero gravity.
The U.S. Air Force made a crucial parachute breakthrough on Sept. 20, 1951. A monkey and 11 mice were successfully recovered after a flight that reached 44 miles (71 km). Although it didn’t reach the 50-mile limit of space, this marked the first time the United States had recovered a higher life form from spaceflight conditions.
The Air Force continued to launch dogs and mice into space until 1952 when the program was suspended. It would not be revived until 1958 after the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1.
While the United States was experimenting with mice and monkeys, the Soviet Union was focused largely on launching dogs. On July 22, 1951, engineers sent Tsygan and Dezik on a suborbital flight and recovered them safely, making them the first higher life forms to survive a trip into space. The Soviets launched a dozen dogs on suborbital flights throughout the 1950s.
The first animal to enter orbit was Laika, which the Soviet Union launched aboard Sputnik 2 on Nov. 3, 1957. Laika had been a stray dog living on the streets of Moscow when she was caught and put into training for the space program. Her flight was brief; she died only hours after reaching orbit. Her capsule was not designed to be recovered, so Laika’s death was inevitable.
The Soviets would launch at least 10 other dogs into orbit before the first successful manned space mission by Gagarin on April 12, 1961. On one of those flights, the nation sent the first rabbit, Marfusa, into space.
The United States restarted its program of sending monkeys into space in 1958. Able and Baker became the first monkeys to survive spaceflight after they were launched in the nose cone of a Jupiter rocket on May 28, 1959.
Baker became one of the first monkeys to survive spaceflight along with Able.
Two years later, a chimpanzee named Ham flew aboard a Mercury capsule, paving the way for Shepard’s successful flight on May 5, 1961.
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