Animals in space

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Squirrel monkey "Baker" rode a Jupiter missile into space in 1959

Animals in space originally served to test the survivability of spaceflight before manned space missions were attempted. Later animals were flown to investigate various biological processes and the effects microgravity and space flight might have on them. As of 2004, five national space programs have flown animals into space: the United States, Soviet Union, France, China and Japan.



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 this decade but the first mouse was the only one which survived.

On January 29, 1951, the Soviet Union launched the R-1 IIIA-1 flight, carrying the dogs Zhegan and Dezik into space (but not into orbit). The U.S. launched mice aboard spacecraft later that year; however, they failed to reach the altitude for true spaceflight.

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Laika in Sputnik 2

The first animal in orbit was the Soviet dog Laika onboard Sputnik 2 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 April 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. (See Russian space dogs)

On December 13, 1958, a Jupiter IRBM, AM-13, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida with a U.S. Navy trained South American squirrel monkey named "Gordo" onboard. The nosecone recovery parachute failed to operate and "Gordo" did not survive the flight. 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 nosecone sank 1,302 nm 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) South American squirrel monkey, "Baker". The monkeys rode in the nosecone 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 (14,000 km/h) was reached during their 16 minute flight. The monkeys survived the flight in good condition. "Able" died four days after the flight while undergoing surgery to remove an infected medical electrode, from a reaction to the anesthesia. "Baker" lived until November 29, 1984 at the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.


On January 31, 1961, Ham the chimp was launched in a Mercury capsule aboard a Redstone rocket. His mission was Mercury-Redstone 2. He was trained to pull levers to receive rewards. 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 primate in orbit on November 29, 1961 in another Mercury capsule, this time on an Atlas rocket, Mercury-Atlas 5.

The Soviet Union in the Vostok 3A flights of March 1961 launched mice and for the for the first time, guinea pigs and frogs (northern leopard frogs).

France flew the first rat into space on February 22, 1961. Two further 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 impluses. 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.

The United States launched Biosatellite I in 1966 and Biosatellite I/II in 1967 with fruit flies, parasitic wasps, flour beetles and frog eggs along with bacteria, amoeba, plants and fungus.

The first tortoise in space and the first animal of any kind in deep 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. The capsule was recovered at sea September 21.

The United States launched the monkey Bonny in 1969 on the first multi-day primate mission, one of four U.S. monkey missions in the 1960s.

The Soviet Union continued launching dogs in this decade. In total in the 1950s and 60s, the Soviet Union launched missions with passenger slots for at least 57 dogs. The actual number of dogs in space is smaller as some dogs flew more than once. (See Russian space dogs)


Two bullfrogs were launched on a one way mission on the Orbiting Frog Otolith satellite on November 9, 1970 to better understand space motion sickness.

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, mummichog and the first spiders in space, cross spiders. The U.S. also flew mummichog on the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

The Soviets flew a number of 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 80's 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.


Four monkeys flew aboard the last Bion flights of the Soviet Union as well as frogs and fruit flies. The Foton program flights carried dormant brine shrimp, newts, fruit flies, and desert beetles.

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Astronaut Donald Thomas examines a newt on the Space Shuttle

China launched guinea pigs in 1990.

Toyohiro Akiyama, a Japanese journalist carried Japanese tree frogs with him during his trip to the Mir space station in December, 1990. Other biological experiments aboard Mir involved quail eggs,

Japan launched its first animals into space on March 18, 1995: a species of newt.

The U.S. during the 1990s 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 the Space Shuttle.


The last flight of Space Shuttle 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

C. elegans are also part of experiments aboard the International Space Station as well as research using quail eggs.

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 in the 2000s included gypsy moth eggs.

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