Animals in space

Animals in space

Why send animals into space?

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.

What was the first animal in space?

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 in New Mexico, and reached 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. 

Why were fruit flies sent to space?

image of a fly in space

The fruit flies were sent into space to study the effects of radiation exposure on living organisms at high altitudes.  

You might be wondering: why fruit flies? Well, the reason behind this is quite simple - 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 fly's protein sequences have mammalian analogues. This makes a fruit fly a good “substitute” for people and they are commonplace in genetic research labs for this very reason.  

Fruit flies can also 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.


First monkey in space

image of two monkeys in space

The first monkey sent into space was a rhesus monkey called 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 II 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. 

Mice in space

image of a mouse in space

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. 

Dogs in space

image of a dog in space

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, died 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 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 that 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.

Laika monument

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.

image of laika monument

Cats in space

image of a cat in space

Boldly going where no cat has gone before! On October 18th, 1963 the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) 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.

Animals in space timeline

  • 1947, February 20 – Fruit flies became the first animals in outer space. 
  • 1949, June 4 – Albert II became the first monkey in space. 
  • 1950, August 15 – A mouse was launched into space. 
  • 1957, November 3 – Aboard Sputnik, Laika, a stray Russian dog became the first living being to orbit the Earth. 
  • 1959, May 28 - Two monkeys, a rhesus monkey Able, and a squirrel monkey, Baker became the first to return to Earth after a space flight successfully. 
  • 1959, July 2 – The first rabbit in space. A Soviet launch carried two dogs and a rabbit into space. 
  • 1960, August 19 – Sputnik 5 carrying two dogs Belka and Strelka, a grey rabbit, 42 mice, two rats and some fruit flies was the first spacecraft to return animals alive from orbit. 
  • 1961, January 31 – A Mercury capsule was flown on a sub-orbital trajectory by a chimpanzee named Ham who survived his voyage. 
  • 1961, November 29 – A chimpanzee by the name of Enos became the first chimp to orbit the Earth a Mercury-Atlas 5 spacecraft and survive. 
  • 1963, October 18 – The French launched cat by the name of Felicette, who became the first cat in space. 
  • 1964 – 1966 – China launched dogs, mice and rats into space. 
  • 1966, March 16 – Two Russian space dogs by the names of Veterok and Ugolyok orbited the Earth for a record-breaking 22 days before they landed safely back on Earth on March 16, 1966. This record still stands for space flight involving dogs. 
  • 1969 – The Soviet Zond 5 carrying several animals, Two Russian tortoises, wind flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, and bacteria became the first spacecraft to circle the Moon. Zond 6 flew similar missions, but all biological specimens were killed by a malfunction later that year. 

Future of animals in space

Tests involving sending animals to space were primarily carried out in preparation for humans’ 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? 


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