Sunday, April 24, 2011

Animals in Space

Since it is Earth Day weekend and Caturday (well it was when I started writing this, then I got seriously distracted), I decided what would a better way to celebrate then to talk about some of the animal we've sent to space.

Human's aren't the only animals from this planet to have gone to space, we have often sent animals to test conditions or for scientific research. Most people know this and tend to think of dogs and chimps, but really the list is a lot more diverse then that. And there are those who proclaim animal cruelty, but it is part of the process for ensuring safe travel in the future. Most of the time these days, animals are put in no real danger, no more then their astronaut counterparts.

So far six national space programs have flown animals to space: the Soviet Union, the United States, France, China, Japan, and Iran.

The first animals sent into space, the first travelers from Earth, were fruit flies. Dramatic, I know... They were accompanied by rye and cotton seeds aboard a U.S. V2 rocket launched on February 29, 1947. The experiment was to test radiation exposure at high altitudes, and the rocket made it past both the US 50 mile and international 100 km definitions of the edge of space. The experiment was a success, the fruit flies were recovered alive and the seeds were able to grow. Future V2 missions would also carried biological samples too. (Source)

What Earth's first emissary to the stars might have looked like. (UW-Madison)

On June 14, 1949, a rhesus monkey named Albert II became the first monkey in space, reaching about 83 miles in his V2 rocket. The first Albert had died due to rocket failure during the missions ascent. Albert II died on impact after a parachute failure. Monkeys would continue to be used throughout the 1950s and 60s, implanted with sensors to measure vital signs and usually under anesthesia.

Albert II's launch. (Smithsonian)

The U.S. launched a mouse into space on August 31, 1950 aboard a V2. Called Albert V, unlike the earlier Albert flights, did not fly a monkey. The rocket disintegrated due to parachute failure. Several other mice would be launched in the 1950s.

The Soviet Union launched the first two dogs into space aboard the R-1 IIIA-1 flight on January 29, 1951. The dogs were Tsygan and Dezik, and although they reached space, they did not orbit. Both dogs survived the flight, but one would later die on a subsequent flight.

The dog Laika would become the first animal to orbit, aboard the second spacecraft to achieve orbit. Sputnik 2 (nicknamed Muttnik in the West) was launched November 3, 1957 with the dog. Laika died a few hours in orbit as planned since there was reentry strategy from orbit developed yet. She was a small stray picked up from the streets. Ten other dogs would reach orbit before Yuri Gagarin's flight on April 12, 1961.

Laika in her flight harness.
Of those other dogs, Belka and Strelka of Sputnik 5, launched August 19 1960, were the first animals to achieve orbit and be returned alive. One of Strelka's pups after the mission was given to Caroline Kennedy as a gift and many descendants are known to exist.

On December 13, 1958, the first squirrel monkey, named Gordo, was put into space aboard a Jupiter IRBM. He was lost to yet another parachute failure, the capsule landed in the Atlantic ocean and was never recovered. Telemetry data from the mission was considered a success though, Gordo survived the stress of launch and weightlessness, alleviating concerns about affects on humans. (Also, you can read about how awesome squirrel monkeys are over at Leaving the Next: An Expat Survival Guide.)

Baker on a model V2 rocket (not his actual spacecraft). (U.S. Army)

Soon after Gordo's flight, a rhesus monkey named Able and a squirrel monkey named Baker would become the first monkeys to survive spaceflight on May 28, 1959. Both survived in good condition. Unfortunately Able died during surgery to remove an infected medical electrode. Baker would live as the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama until 1984.

Ham the Chimp, hamming it up after his spaceflight. (NASA)

The first chimp in space, Ham the Chimp, launched in a Mercury capsule aboard a Redstone rocket on January 31, 1961. He was trained to pull levers to receive banana pellets and avoid shocks. During the flight this was used to show the ability to perform tasks during spaceflight. About 3 months later, Alan Shepard would become the second human and first American in space. Enos the Chimp would become the first chimp in orbit on November 29, 1961.

France had a relatively short lived animal testing program, running from 1961-67. They first flew a rat (Hector) on February 22, 1961, then two more rats later. Then the first cat, Felix, on October 18, 1963, who was recovered alive. The second cat in space was not. The final launches were of two monkeys in March 1967.

China launched mice and rats in 1964 and 65; two dogs in 1966; and guinea pigs in 1990.

In the 1960s, Argentina launched a series of rats (the first was Belisario, recovered successfully) aboard Orion II rockets. And later two cai monkeys on separate flights, the first using a two-stage Rigel 04 rocket the second using a X-1 Panther rocket. The monkeys never reached the 100 km space mark, and it is unclear if any of the rats did.

Japan launched its first animals, a species of newt, into space on March 18, 1995 aboard the Space Flyer Unit.

Bigelow Aerospace has the distinction of being the only private/commercial launching of animals into space (not counting humans which would include Virgin Galactic). On June 12, 2006, their Genesis I inflatable space module launched with Madagascar hissing cockroaches and Mexican jumping beans (they contain live moth larvae). Genesis II launched on June 28, 2007, with more Madagascar hissing cockroaches and added South African flat rock scorpions and seed-harvester ants.

Tardigrades... IN SPACE!

In September 2007, the European Space Agency's FOTON-M3 mission carried tardigrades, aka water-bears, who were able to survive 10 days exposed to open-space with only their natural protection.

Iran was the latest county to launch animals into space on February 3, 2010. They launched a mouse, two turtles, and some worms on top of the Kavoshgar 3 rocket and returned alive to Earth.

First spider web made in space. (NASA)

Over the years several other animal species have been sent to space, including: macaques, monarch butterfly larva, roundworms, nematodes, many species of ants, crickets, snails, carp, brine shrimp, various insects and insect eggs, spiders, silkworms, sea urchins, various fish species, quail eggs, chicken embryos, bullfrogs, frogs, toads, turtles, tortoises, meal worms, flies, and parasitic wasps.

All of these missions have gone on to help understand the effects of life in space. Our earthly compatriots join us on our journey to the stars and are important to understand because we will likely need them when we leave Earth. The study of the effects of living in space is a part of astrobiology.

Who knows what we will send next? Any of you guys have any suggestions? I know I would personally like to see bird in space (that isn't an egg/embryo), but would be tough to do with their fragile bone structure.


Anonymous said...

The idea that water-bears survived that long in space has always fascinated me.

Jay said...

this is very interesting. i wonder why japan chose newts.

great post and hear, hear for our animal astronauts!

Elliot MacLeod-Michael said...

Agreed it's necessary (for the most part) but I still find the story of Laika beautiful and heartbreaking.

Erika said...

Again with the tardigrades! creepy little mofos.... I personally would like to see a shark in space =P

Then we could call it Space Shark and it will have its own movie and everything. =0

mac-and-me said...

Great post, very informative.

Kanika Bishnoi said...

Cool post. I liked the chimp... :)

Zombie said...

There needs to be more chimps in space! said...


Maybe next year.

Rob said...

I've never considered the idea of needing animals when we go into space. Our animal life with us, on another planet... Crazy awesome idea.

Teutorix said...

Tardigrades will conquer the galaxy.

ScottD said...

I would imagine that a bird in space would have shit everywhere!!

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