The year 1969 was especially exciting; the U.S. officially won the “space race” when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The space race was a competition between the Soviet Union (now Russia) and the United States to see who could launch the first man in to space successfully.
Before sending humans into space, both country's space programs sent insects and then animals first. Scientists wanted to see the effects of microgravity and high altitudes on the animals' bodily functions and DNA radiations before a human ever set foot into a space shuttle.
The first living creatures sent into space were fruit flies. On February 20, 1947, fruit flies were launched in a V-2 rocket. In just three minutes and ten seconds, the fruit flies were traveling at an altitude of 68 miles. Next, the U.S. sent two garden spiders into space, named Arabella and Anita. Researchers were particularly interested in monitoring the spiders' ability to spin webs. Though Arabella was able to spin a symmetric web, the thickness of her web varied, Earthbound spiders whose webs are of uniform thickness.
The U.S. then sent monkeys into space. Monkey DNA is only 1.2% different than human DNA. A rhesus monkey named Albert II, was the first-ever mammal sent into space. Albert II made it to an altitude of 83 miles on June 14, 1949. However, he then died from the force of impact upon landing. Several other monkeys also named Albert were sent by the U.S. into space following Albert II's death, but each of them died except for two monkeys who were launched together in 1959.
These two monkeys were named Miss Baker and Able. They flew to an altitude of 360 miles on May 28. 1959 in a Jupiter rocket. Upon landing, their capsule touched down 1,700 miles from the Eastern Space Missile Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida. They were successfully recovered. However, some years after the flight, Able died from anesthesia complications during a procedure to remove an electrode under her skin. Later, Miss Baker and Able died of kidney failure.
In contrast to American efforts with insects and monkeys, the Soviet Union sent dogs into space. Laika, a Siberian Husky mix, was found without an owner in the streets of Moscow. She soon became the first animal to orbit Earth. Laika and two other dogs were trained for space travel in cages designed to parallel the size of their future living quarters. Laika's trip into space was one-way because the Soviet Union could not figure out a re-entry plan in time for the 1957 launch. It is still unknown how long she survived in space, as her life support likely gave out during the flight. The spaceship carrying Laika, Sputnik 2, ultimately burned up in space.
Clearly, animals played a significant role in humans' successfully sending astronauts into space. But many lands and planets are still waiting to be discovered in space. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently found a new solar system named “Trappist-1” that includes three planets that may host life form. And who knows? Maybe NASA will send animals to Trappist-1 too.
[Sources: Space.com; telegraph.co.uk; NASA.com]