Animals in space originally only served to test the survivability of spaceflight, before manned space missions were attempted. Later, animals were also flown to investigate various biological processes and the effects microgravity and space flight might have on them. Six national space programs have flown animals into space: the Soviet Union, the United States, France, China, Japan and Iran.
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On August 31, 1950, the U.S. launched a mouse into space (137 km) aboard a V2 (the Albert V flight, which, unlike the Albert I-IV flights, did not have a monkey). The U.S. launched several other mice in the 1950s.
On January 29, 1951, the Soviet Union launched the R-1 IIIA-1 flight, carrying the dogs Tsygan (Russian: Цыган, "Gypsy") and Dezik (Russian: Дезик) into space, but not into orbit. Both space dogs survived the flight, although one would die on a subsequent flight. The U.S. launched mice aboard spacecraft later that year; however, they failed to reach the altitude for true spaceflight.
The first animal in orbit was the dog Laika, launched aboard the Soviet Sputnik 2 spacecraft on November 3, 1957. Laika died during the flight. At least 10 other dogs were launched into orbit and numerous others on sub-orbital flights before the historic date of April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
On December 13, 1958, a Jupiter IRBM, AM-13, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with a United States Navy-trained South American squirrel monkey named Gordo onboard. The nose cone recovery parachute failed to operate and Gordo was lost. Telemetry data sent back during the flight showed that the monkey survived the 10G of launch, 8 minutes of weightlessness and 40G of reentry at 10,000 miles per hour. The nose cone sank 1,302 nautical miles (2,411 km) downrange from Cape Canaveral and was not recovered.
Monkeys Able and Baker became the first monkeys to survive spaceflight after their 1959 flight. On May 28, 1959, aboard Jupiter IRBM AM-18, were a 7-pound (3.18 kg) American-born rhesus monkey, Able, and an 11 ounce (310 g) squirrel monkey from Peru, Baker. The monkeys rode in the nose cone of the missile to an altitude of 360 miles (579 km) and a distance of 1,700 miles (2,735 km) down the Atlantic Missile Range from Cape Canaveral, Florida. They withstood forces 38 times the normal pull of gravity and were weightless for about 9 minutes. A top speed of 10,000 mph (16,000 km/h) was reached during their 16 minute flight. The monkeys survived the flight in good condition. Able died four days after the flight from a reaction to anesthesia, while undergoing surgery to remove an infected medical electrode. Baker lived until November 29, 1984, at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
On August 19, 1960, Sputnik 5 (also known as Korabl-Sputnik 2) carried the dogs Belka and Strelka. It was the first spacecraft to carry animals into orbit and return them alive. One of Strelka's pups, Pushinka, bred and born after her mission, was given as a present to Caroline Kennedy by Nikita Khruschev in 1961, and many descendants are known to exist.
On January 31, 1961, Ham the Chimp was launched in a Mercury capsule aboard a Redstone rocket. His mission was Mercury-Redstone 2. The chimp had been trained to pull levers to receive rewards of banana pellets and avoid electric shocks. His flight demonstrated the ability to perform tasks during spaceflight. A little over 3 months later the United States sent Alan Shepard into space. Enos the chimp became the first chimpanzee in orbit on November 29, 1961, in another Mercury capsule, an Atlas rocket, Mercury-Atlas 5.
France flew the first rat into space on February 22, 1961. Two more rats were flown in October 1962.
France launched Felix the cat into space on October 18, 1963. The cat had electrodes implanted into its head to measure neural impulses. Felix was recovered alive, but the next cat in space was not. The final French animal launches were of two monkeys in March 1967.
China launched mice and rats in 1964 and 1965, and two dogs in 1966.
During the Voskhod program, two Russian space dogs, Veterok (Ветерок, Little Wind) and Ugolyok (Уголёк, Ember), were launched on February 22, 1966, on board Cosmos 110 and spent 22 days in orbit before landing on March 16. This spaceflight of record-breaking duration was not surpassed by humans until Skylab 2 in 1974 and still stands as the longest space flight by dogs.
The first tortoise in space was launched September 14, 1968 by the Soviet Union. The Horsfield's tortoise was sent on a circumlunar voyage along with wine flies, meal worms and other biological specimens. These were the first animals in deep space. The capsule was recovered at sea on September 21.
The United States launched the monkey Bonny, a macaque, in 1969 on the first multi-day primate mission; it was one of four U.S. monkey missions in the 1960s.
In total in the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union launched missions with passenger slots for at least 57 dogs. The actual number of dogs in space is smaller, because some dogs flew more than once.
Apollo 16 on April 16, 1972 carried nematodes, and Apollo 17, launched on December 7, 1972 carried five pocket mice, although one died on the circumlunar trip. Skylab 3 carried pocket mice and the first fish in space (a mummichog), and the first spiders in space (cross spiders named Arabella and Anita). The U.S. also flew mummichog on the Apollo-Soyuz mission.
The Soviets flew several Bion program missions which consisted of satellites with biological cargoes. On these launches they flew tortoises, rats, and mummichog. On Soyuz 20, launched November 17, 1975, tortoises set the duration record for an animal in space when they spent 90.5 days in space. Salyut 5 on June 22, 1976, carried tortoises and a fish (a zebra danio).
The Soviet Union sent 8 monkeys into space in the 1980s on Bion flights, while the U.S. sent two aboard Spacelab 3 on the space shuttle along with 24 rats and stick insect eggs. Bion flights also flew zebra danio, fruit flies, rats, stick insect eggs and the first newts in space.
Bion 7 (1985) had 10 newts (Pleurodeles waltl) onboard. The newts had part of their front limbs amputated to study the rate of regeneration in space, knowledge to understand human recovery from space injuries.
China launched guinea pigs in 1990.
Japan launched its first animals, a species of newt, into space on March 18, 1995 aboard the Space Flyer Unit.
During the 1990s the U.S. carried crickets, mice, rats, frogs, newts, fruit flies, snails, carp, medaka, oyster toadfish, sea urchins, swordtail fish, gypsy moth eggs, stick insect eggs and quail eggs aboard Space Shuttle Columbia.
The last flight of Columbia in 2003 carried silkworms, golden orb spiders, carpenter bees, harvester ants, and Japanese killifish. Nematodes (C. elegans) from one experiment were found still alive in the debris after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.
Earlier shuttle missions included grade school, junior high and high school projects; some of these included ants, stick insect eggs and brine shrimp cysts. Other science missions included gypsy moth eggs.
On July 12, 2006, Bigelow Aerospace launched their Genesis I inflatable space module, containing many small items such as toys and simple experiments chosen by company employees that would be observed via camera. These items included insects, perhaps making it the first private flight to launch animals into space. Included were Madagascar hissing cockroaches and Mexican jumping beans — seeds containing live larvae of the moth Cydia deshaisiana. On June 28, 2007, Bigelow launched Genesis II, a near-twin to Genesis I. This spacecraft also carried the Madagascar hissing cockroaches and added South African flat rock scorpions (Hadogenes troglodytes) and seed-harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex californicus).
In September, 2007, during the European Space Agency's FOTON-M3 mission, tardigrades, also known as water-bears, were able to survive 10 days of exposure to open-space with only their natural protection.
On February 3, 2010, on the 31st anniversary of its revolution, Iran became the latest country to launch animals into space. The animals (a mouse, two turtles and some worms) were launched on top of the Kavoshgar 3 rocket and returned alive to Earth.