The Incredible Stories Of The First Animals In Space, In 40 Photos

Published March 29, 2017
First Animals In Space Dog
First Animals In Space Canine
First Animals In Space Test
Laika In Spacesuit
The Incredible Stories Of The First Animals In Space, In 40 Photos
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Before Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961, there were the animals. The first astronauts to break through Earth’s atmosphere had no understanding of what they were doing. They were dogs and monkeys, strapped into rockets and blasted out of the world they knew – often, never to return.

Animals were part of the space race from the very start. Since 1947, when the United States put fruit flies into a Nazi V-2 Rocket and fired them 100km into the air, animals helped in getting humankind into space. They unwittingly risked things that no human would then dare and made the dream of human space travel a reality.

The most famous of these first animals in space by far is Laika, the Soviet space dog. In 1957, the dog became the first animal to enter the Earth’s orbit. Laika’s voyage had a tragic end – her spacecraft was rushed by scientists who, determined to get into orbit before the Americans, didn’t have time to find a way to bring her home. Her life-support systems failed, the spacecraft heated up, and Laika suffocated shortly after making it into space.

Laika, however, was not the only animal to travel into space. Two years later, in 1959, Soviet dogs Belka and Strelka became the first animals to go into orbit and make it back alive.

Some of the most amazing human accomplishments would never have happened without these animals.

Yuri Gagarin didn’t make his flight into space until a dog named Zvezdochka ran the mission as a trial. Alan Shepard, the first American in space, didn’t make his flight until a chimpanzee named Ham had done it safely. And John Glenn didn’t go into orbit until Enos the chimp tried it first.

Animals made some incredible sacrifices for the sake of human progress – although they had no way of knowing what they were doing. They went through incredible conditions and experiences, many of them never coming back alive. Because of them, humanity achieved the unimaginable.

After this look at the first animals in space, check out these vintage photographs from the Apollo missions and from the glory days of NASA.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
Cite This Article
Oliver, Mark. "The Incredible Stories Of The First Animals In Space, In 40 Photos.", March 29, 2017, Accessed April 24, 2024.