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12 animals who’ve been in space

by Caroline Décoste


The United States, followed shortly by other nations, began sending animals into space in the late 1940s to test future space programs. First fruit flies, then dogs, cats, monkeys, rats, turtles, frogs, and even a rabbit took off on rockets…often without returning.

Laika, the dog


A dog named Laika is probably the most famous animal on this list. She was the first living being in orbit. Unfortunately, Laïka met a tragic end. Travelling aboard Sputnik 2, she was expected to die of oxygen deprivation in a few seconds after seven days in orbit. However, Laika died shortly after the launch on November 3, 1957, due to the capsule’s extreme heat.

Miss Baker, the squirrel monkey

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

On May 28, 1959, Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey, and her companion Able boarded the missile Jupiter for a 15-minute flight at an altitude of 579 km (360 miles). Both monkeys were brought back alive, and Miss Baker enjoyed a long life as a space race celebrity and mascot. She passed away in 1984.

Able, the rhesus monkey


Able, who accompanied Miss Baker in the conical head of the missile Jupiter, was not as lucky as her companion. Four days after their return to Earth, Able died from a reaction to the anesthesia used during the removal of an infected electrode.

Ham, the chimpanzee


A chimpanzee named Ham just beat out Yuri Gagarin as the first hominid to go into space. On January 31, 1961, Ham took flight as part of the Mercury-Redstone 2 mission. During his short suborbital trip, he was tested for cognitive impairment. Fortunately, Ham not only passed the tests, but he was brought back safe and sound and lived the rest of his life peacefully at a zoo.

Belka and Strelka, the dogs

Agency / Shutterstock

During the space race, the Americans focused their efforts on primates, while the Soviets launched space programs using stray dogs. Belka and Strelka went into orbit on August 19, 1960, accompanied by two rats, a rabbit, fruit flies, and plants. They returned to Earth safely and gained star status.

Enos, the chimpanzee


On November 29, 1961, a chimpanzee named Enos blasted off on board the Mercury-Atlas 5. He was supposed to orbit the planet three times before returning to Earth, but the mission was cut short when the team realized that the cabin was overheating and that poor Enos’s feet were receiving electric shocks. Despite this, the chimp responded correctly to the cognitive tests for which he’d been trained.

Veterok and Ugolyok, the Soviet space program dogs

Ю. В. Афонин

During the 1950s and ’60s, the Soviets set up a space program to send nearly 60 dogs on orbital and suborbital trips. Veterok and Ugolyok were among the most celebrated for their 22-day orbit aboard the Kosmos 110. They returned safe and sound on March 16, 1966.

Félicette, the French cat


Félicette became the only cat to have conquered space after a 15-minute flight on board the Véronique, a rocket developed for the French space program. She returned alive from her flight on October 18, 1963, but quickly sank into oblivion. Fortunately, a crowdsourcing campaign succeeded in immortalizing the pioneer cat with a statue.

Sam, the little rhesus monkey


On board the rocket Little Joe-2, Sam the rhesus monkey experienced three minutes of weightlessness during the 1959 Mercury project. Fortunately, the military recovered Sam in good health after the capsule landed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Miss Sam, the emergency-procedure rhesus monkey


Sam’s training partner, Miss Sam, also participated in Mercury program tests, but at a lower altitude, only 15 km (9 miles). She was also found alive on board her capsule.

Arabella and Anita, the spiders


Can a spider build a web in zero gravity? That’s the experiment NASA scientists wanted to conduct with the help of Arabella and Anita, two diadem spiders brought along on the Skylab mission. The investigation, which had been proposed by a high school student, concluded that the spiders accounted for weightlessness in weaving. Unfortunately, Arabella and Anita died of dehydration before returning to Earth.

NASA’s “rat-stronaut” team

NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart

Designed for the International Space Station, NASA’s Rodent Reseach Hardware System houses rats the agency uses to study the effects of long-term microgravity. The first system was launched on September 21, 2014, aboard SpaceX-4.




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