It is often said that the Soviet dog Laika was the first animal in space. But this is not correct – Laika was the first living creature in an Earth orbit, but others had made it into space before her.
20 February 1947
The first animals sent into space were fruit flies aboard a U.S.-launched V-2 rocket from White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The purpose of the experiment was to explore the effects of radiation exposure at high altitudes. The rocket reached 109 km (68 mi) in 3 minutes 10 seconds, past both the U.S. Air Force 80 km (50 mi) and the international 100 km definitions of the boundary of space. The Blossom capsule was ejected and successfully deployed its parachute. The fruit flies were recovered alive. Other V-2 missions carried biological samples, including moss.
14 June 1949
Albert II, a rhesus monkey, became the first monkey, first primate, and first mammal in space in a U.S.-launched V-2, after the failure of the original Albert’s mission on ascent. Albert I reached only 48–63 km (30–39 mi) altitude; Albert II reached about 134 km (83 mi). Albert II died on impact after a parachute failure. Numerous monkeys of several species were flown by the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. Monkeys were implanted with sensors to measure vital signs, and many were under anesthesia during launch. The death rate among these monkeys was very high: about two-thirds of all monkeys launched in the 1940s and 1950s died on missions or soon after landing.
31 August 1950
The U.S. launched a mouse into space (137 km) aboard a V-2 (the Albert V flight, which, unlike the Albert I-IV flights, did not have a monkey), however the animal died following descent because the parachute system failed. The U.S. launched several other mice in the 1950s.
22 July 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. These two dogs were the first living higher organisms successfully recovered from a spaceflight. Both space dogs survived the flight, although Dezik 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.
3 November 1957
The second-ever orbiting spacecraft carried the first animal into orbit, the dog Laika, launched aboard the Soviet Sputnik 2 spacecraft (nicknamed ‘Muttnik’ in the West). Laika died during the flight, as was intended because the technology to return from orbit had not yet been developed. At least 10 other dogs were launched into orbit and numerous others on sub-orbital flights before the historic date of 12 April 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
Illustration created with Midjourney AI.
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