Laika the Dog: These Are All the Animals That Have Been Launched Into Space

Sixty-one years ago today, the Soviet Union launched a dog known as Laika into orbit above the Earth aboard the Sputnik 2 spacecraft.

Laika—a stray picked up from the streets of Moscow—was the first animal to orbit our planet and became a global sensation. However, she did not survive the mission and died a few hours after launch.

Despite her place in history, Laika was not actually the first animal in space. American and Russian scientists had been sending living organisms beyond the extent of Earth's atmosphere for at least a decade before Sputnik 2 to observe how their bodies reacted to microgravity and the other unique conditions present there. The main aim was to try and understand whether humans could actually survive in space.

Sadly, many of these animals were killed during such missions, but the lessons learned were crucial in paving the way for the first human spaceflights in 1961, according to NASA. Once manned spaceflights became normalized, space agencies did not need to send so many animals into space. However, living creatures are still used in space missions for other research purposes.

To celebrate the anniversary of Laika's launch, here is a list of all the animals that have been sent into space:

Flies

On February 20, 1947, the U.S. launched fruit flies to an altitude of around 68 miles above the Earth aboard a captured German V-2 rocket in order to study the effects of radiation exposure in living organisms. After passing the Kármán line at 62 miles high—the commonly accepted boundary of Earth's atmosphere—these flies became the first animals to enter outer space. The fruit flies were recovered alive.

Primates

Just a year later in June, American scientists launched a rhesus monkey known as Albert II into space aboard another V-2 rocket reaching an altitude of 83 miles. While Albert survived the majority of the flight—becoming the first mammal, and indeed vertebrate, in space—he was killed when the rocket collided with the ground on re-entry. In the decades after this initial flight, more than 30 types of primates were flown into space by the U.S. and Russia, including Ham the chimp who was trained to perform tasks in his spacecraft. Ham was launched into suborbital flight in January 1961 by the U.S., becoming the first hominid in space. The mission was successful and Ham returned safely to Earth sporting only minor injuries.

Mice

The first mouse was sent into space on August 31, 1950 aboard a V-2 rocket. Since then, these animals have frequently been used by various space agencies in numerous experiments due to their suitability for scientific research. Among the most notable landmarks, five mice orbited the moon in 1972 aboard the Apollo 17 spacecraft. This was the final Apollo mission which is also notable for being the last that time humans have traveled beyond low-Earth orbit.

Dogs

Aside from the achievements of Laika, several other records in animal spaceflight are held by dogs. The Soviets were particularly fond of sending canines into space, using several dogs in orbital and suborbital flights during the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, the first dogs to reach space—Tsygan and Dezik—aboard the Russian R-1 IIIA-1 spacecraft on July 22, 1951 were also the first large animals to successfully survive a space mission. And in 1960, Soviets launched the Sputnik 5 spacecraft carrying the dogs Belka and Strelka—as well as several other creatures and plants—which became the first mission to successfully launch animals into orbit and return them home alive.

Laika, dog
Laika, the Russian space dog, rests comfortably inside the Soviet satellite Sputnik II in preparation of becoming the first living creature to orbit the earth. Bettmann/Getty Images

Cats

In October 1963, French scientists launched the first cat into space for a short 15 minute flight—reaching an altitude of around 100 miles—which the feline, known as Félicette, survived.

Tortoises

Tortoises were launched into space for the first time by the Soviet Union aboard the Zond 5 spacecraft in September 1968, eventually becoming the first animals in deep space, and the first organisms from Earth to travel around the moon—alongside some other biological specimens. Tortoises also set the animal record for longest duration in space in the mid-1970s. These tortoises spent 90.5 days in space as part of the Soviet Bion program.

Tardigrades

Tardigrades, colloquially known as "water bears" or "moss piglets," are some of the hardiest creatures known to science, capable of surviving extreme conditions which would easily kill other animals. In September 2007, a European Space Agency mission demonstrated that these microscopic critters were even able to survive 10 days of exposure to open space with no protection other than their own natural defenses.

...and the rest

In addition to the animals mentioned above, numerous other creatures have been sent into space by humans, including several types of fish; guinea pigs; frogs; rabbits; turtles; spiders; jellyfish; newts; scorpions; cockroaches; gerbils; geckos; rats; parasitic wasps; beetles; roundworms; brine shrimp; crickets; snails; sea urchins; silk worms; bees; and ants.

Laika the Dog: These Are All the Animals That Have Been Launched Into Space | Tech & Science