Since the 18th-century animals have been loaded up onto a variety of aircraft from hot air balloons to rockets - all in the name of science! These tests were essential for studying the effects of high altitudes on living organisms.
Since the 18th-century animals have been loaded up onto a variety of aircraft from hot air balloons to rockets - all in the name of science! These tests were essential for studying the effects of high altitudes on living organisms, and for a wide variety of studies and experiments which are currently being carried out on the International Space Station.
Over the years a lot of animals have been strapped to rockets and fired into the heavens in the name of science, so below I have outlined a selection of some of the most notable instances in the pursuit of space travel.
Most people think that the first ever animal sent into space was a dog, but actually, it was something you wouldn't expect - fruit flies. Fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) were sealed inside a captured Nazi V-2 rocket on 20th February 1947. The rocket was launched from White Sands missile range, New Mexico. Reaching an altitude of 68 miles (or 108 km) before falling back towards the ground and landing safely aided by a parachute. I'm sure you'll be glad to hear that the fruit flies were later recovered and found to be alive and kicking.
The fruit flies were sent into space to study the effects of radiation exposure at high altitudes. You might be wondering: why fruit flies? Well, the reason behind this is quite surprising - people and fruit flies share a lot of the same genes. About 77% of genes known to cause diseases in humans have a recognisable match in the genetic code of the fruit flies. Also, 50% of the fruit flies protein sequences have mammalian analogues.
This makes Drosophila melanogaster a good substitute for people and they are commonplace in genetic research labs for this very reason. Fruit flies can reproduce extremely quickly, giving scientists the ability to study the effects of radiation exposure throughout generations, which would be a much slower process to observe on people.
Check out the video below for more information on fruit flies in space.
The first monkey sent into space was Albert. He travelled to over 39 miles (63 km) on 11th of June 1948 but sadly suffocated during his flight.
A year later, on June 4, 1949, a monkey by the name of Albert II became the first monkey to reach outer space successfully. Albert was launched into the sky using the same V-2 rocket. However, although Albert reached altitudes of 83 miles (134 km) he soon died on impact when the parachute failed to deploy.
1959 marked the date when monkeys became the first living creatures to survive a space mission. Two female monkeys, named Able and Baker, were sent 300 miles into space from their launch pad in Florida. Their journey lasted 15 minutes, and they successfully landed in the South Atlantic's waters near Puerto Rico.
The first mouse was launched into space on the 30th of August 1950 but unfortunately died upon impact at re-entry.
Even nowadays mice are being launched into space for a variety of different experiments. Some of the recent studies from the ISS include research from 2014 on how space flight affects muscles, nerves, heart and other body systems, or one from 2016, monitoring changes in mice's DNA.
The most recent study from 2017 showed mouse babies arising from mice sperm that was hosted on the International Space Station for nearly a year between 2013-14.
In the 1950s the Soviet Union first launched stray dogs into space, believing that having survived on the rough streets of Moscow, these dogs would have an increased ability to handle extreme conditions in space. The dogs were used for sub-orbital and orbital space flight in an attempt to see if human spaceflight was feasible. At least 57 dogs were launched in total. Most of them survived and the few that didn't die mainly due to technical issues.
22 July 1951 was the date a pair of dogs named Dezik and Tsygan boarded a rocket for the first sub-orbital flight. They travelled to an altitude of 68 miles or 110 km, and both returned to the surface of Earth safely.
The first dog and the first living creature to orbit the Earth was a stray dog found on the streets of the Russian capital. Although initially named Kudryavka, this name seemed to be too difficult for the western world, therefore she's was introduced as Laika – meaning Barker. On the 3rd of November 1957, the USSR launched a Sputnik 2 rocket into orbit with Laika being the only astronaut on board.
However, at this point in history still very little was known about the impact of space flight on living creatures. The technology for sending the rocket into space was still in development and also the technology for re-entry and landing the missile was next to non-existent. This means that the scientists were well aware that Laika was going to die before the rocket even set off. Up until 2002, it was believed that Laika had died due to oxygen deficiency, but the actual cause of her death was extreme stress and overheating. She passed away within 5-7 hours into the flight.
In 2008, nearly 50 years after the historic flight, a memorial to the brave dog was finally installed outside a military facility in Moscow - the facility in which Laika was being prepared for flight. The monument resembles rocket that morphs into a hand, cradling Laika towards the stars.
Below is an image of the monument.
Felicette – the first cat in space
Boldly going where no cat has ever gone before! On October 18th, 1963 the Centre national d’études in France was set to send a cat by the name of Felix into space, however, on the day of launch Felix had escaped and was nowhere to be found, luckily enough a replacement was quickly found, and her name was Felicette.
Tests involving sending animals to space were primarily carried out in preparation for humans' in future space travels. They were to ensure that living organisms can survive in those extreme conditions.
Over time the scientists started researching all varieties of biomedical impacts of space on Earthlings. Different species are being sent to orbit to research various fields of studies – every trip to space is never the same, it brings new information and answers questions we didn't even know to ask.
Nowadays, the scientists are focusing their research on whether a human trip to Mars would be possible. Current studies involving fruit flies are being carried out to investigate the effects of space radiation, for example – would it be possible to develop cancer during a trip to Mars?