What was the first animal in space?

In the early years of space exploration, scientists didn’t know what kind of effect traveling in space would have on human beings. So both the Soviets and the American missions started out by sending animals, to make sure that they would live. There have been many types of animals sent out in space missions, from monkeys, to cats, dogs and even some of the strangest animals you could think of in space.

In 1947, the United States sent the V2 rocket into suborbital space and onboard were a collection of fruit flies. This would be considered the very first animal sent into space. By 1948, the U.S. decided to send the next V2 rocket and they included a Rhesus monkey, by the name of Albert I. In 1957, the Soviets sent Laika the dog into space, followed by ten more dogs, until they finally made the decision to send a human.

Project Mercury rocket Little Joe 1B, launched in 1960

Finding out if space travel was safe and if living creatures could survive in zero gravity was very important. Just as important was making sure that once out there, the return into the earth’s atmosphere and landing could be done safely. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were, at that time, the only two countries involved in these kinds of space experiments. Both countries sent chimpanzees, monkeys, mice, frogs, cats, spiders and a tortoise into space.

There was a lot of competition between the two countries and as America would send one animal up, the Soviets would keep track and make their own decisions based on the success of the U.S. Each country studied the biological make-up of the various animals that they sent, the survival rates, and the effects of impact on re-entries. As time progressed, changes were made to accommodate more safety.

Cameras were included in some of these missions and the animals could be seen moving around in zero gravity. A couple of mice were sent up in their own little ‘bubble’ and specially made ‘space suits’ were designed for the various chimpanzees and monkeys. While it can’t be emphasized how important of a role these animals played, many of them did not survive for a number of reasons.

V2 launch No. 47 carried the monkey Albert II into space

After the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, the decision was made to change the ‘biological payload’ so this it included different species. They began limiting the animals to: insects, fish, rabbits, jellyfish, turtle, algae and amoebae. These were all studied to see what effects had on tissue development and overall health.

As the space race continued, there was very little in the news about animals in space, with the exception of one of the last flights of the Apollo mission. On Skylab 3 two spiders, named Arabella and Anita successfully spun spider webs in space. After that time, it was shown that people could make the trip and exist in zero gravity. Due to the results found in these missions, future space trips included exercise for the astronauts, to keep their muscles in shape and specially designed ways for food and water access.

Space.com – Some more information to help