Animal Astronauts

by CruiseReady

Before man went into space, it was up to Animal Astronauts to prove it could be done. Crucial flights were made by dogs, monkeys, and other animals.

Did you know that lots of animals have been sent into space?

Animals went into space long before people did. At first, no one knew for sure if humans could even survive space flight. Many wondered what kind of effects space travel would have on human beings. Some even suggested it could possibly bring on insanity.

How would it affect human brains and muscles? Would people be able to make decisions, and then do the correct things based on those decisions? What were the best ways to protect people from things like radiation, extreme heat and cold, and the lack of gravity and oxygen?

These were questions that scientists had to answer before humans could go 'up there.' So, first they sent animals to help them learn the answers. Fruit flies, dogs, and chimpanzees just were some of the animals that became astronauts.

It was their destiny to help us learn how to travel and survive in space. They did their job. They were the first astronauts. It was dogs and monkeys who performed some of the last crucial missions before men and (finally) women were allowed to go.

Image Source

Where Does Space Start?

How High Up Did the Animals Fly?

Moon Limb & Troposphere

By ISS Expedition 28 crew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How do you know when you get to space?  Is there a sign saying "Entering Outer Space,"  or "You are now leaving earth's atmosphere?"

No, there's no sign.

But there are a number of  measurements that earthlings use.  Here are several of them:

The United States says that someone who has gone at least 50 miles above the earth is anAstronaut

The World Air Sports Federation says outer space starts at 62 miles up.

Both of these are way higher than the Armstrong Line, which is about 12 miles up.  That's the point where your blood will start to boil if you aren't wearing a special pressure suit.  The orange space suits worn by astronauts during launch are pressure suits.

The animals who have gone into space all went far enough to be called astronauts.  Some of them were only in space for a matter of minutes.  Others actually went into orbit around the earth.

Fruit Flies Were First

The First to Travel into Space

A Red-Eyed-Fruit-Fly

Tiny insects called fruit flies were the very first living beings sent into space, way back in 1947. 

They were sent up by the United States, on a V-2 rocket that went 68 miles up.  

And, they survived!

That flight proved to scientists that living things could go out of the earth's atmosphere, and come back alive.  It was a big step towards one day sending men to the moon.

Image Source

Russia Sent Dogs Into Space

They Were Called Cosmonauts

The three most famous Russian space dogs were Laika, Belka, and Strelka.  They were among the first live creatures to orbit the earth.  But, others came before them.  

At least two dozen went on sub-orbital flights.  That means they went high enough to be in space, but did not circle the earth.  The first ever to go, Dezik and Tsygan, returned safely.  

And there were still others after them, too.



LAIKA the Space Dog

Was Lunched Aboard Sputnik 2

In 1957, Laika orbited the earth in a spacecraft called Sputnik 2. There were special sensors sending signals back to earth that told the scientists about her heart rate and breathing.  After just a few hours, though, the temperature control system failed, and it became too hot for the dog to survive.

The first animal to go into orbit was heroine to her country, though.  There was a statue built in her honor.

 Afterwards, some of the men at the Russian Space agency were sorry, and though they didn't learn a lot of science from Laika's flight, they did learn something important.  They learned to be more careful with their canine cosmonauts.  

Laika Poster

Available at Zazzle


A Happier Ending

Belka and Strelka

 Belka, Stelka, and their space capsule, Credit: By Norhil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

 The story of Belka and Strelka has a much happier ending. They were the first dogs to orbit the earth. They spent a whole day in space and came back alive and healthy. That was in 1960.

They had some company on their flight, too. There were some mice and rats, some flies, and a rabbit, all of whom survived.

Later on, Belka even had babies. Pushok was the father of the puppies. One of her six pups, the one named Pushinka, went to America, and was given as a special gift to a little girl named Caroline. That little girl's daddy was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the President of the United States.



Meanwhile, there were others making orbital journeys.

Six years after Belka and Stelka's successful mission, it was Veterok and Ugolyok's turn to go. They set a real record by staying in orbit for 22 days, the longest ever by any dogs.

Belka and Strelka's Movie

Animated Russian Made film
Space Dogs

he exciting, animated tale based on the true story of Belka and Strelka; two Russian dogs sent to space in 1960. A circus dog and a stray dog embark on an out-of-this-world adve...

View on Amazon

Russian Canine Cosmonaut Names

What They Mean in English

Here are the English translations of the names of the aforementioned Russian Cosmonaut Dogs.


Dezik  (a Russian pet name) 

Tsygan  - Gypsy

Laika - Barker

Belka -  Squirrel

Strelka - Arrow

Pushok - Fluff

Pushinka - Fluffy

Veterok - Light Wind

Ugolyok - Little Piece of Coal

Image Source


Monkeys and Chimpanzees

Joined the 'Frequent Flyer' Club, Too

 The Americans sent monkeys into space.

In the very beginning, there were six monkeys, all named Albert.  Three others were named 

Patricia, Mike, and Gordo.  Most didn't survive their flights.

Miss Baker with her award

Miss Baker with Her Awards, By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Then, in May of 1959, Miss Able and Miss Baker made headlines by surviving true space flight on a Jupiter missle.  They were weightless for nine minutes, and traveled 1500 miles.  They even got their picture on the cover of Life magazine, which was a very big deal at the time.  

Tiny Miss Baker also received special recognition from the ASPCA for Distinguished Service.   


Meet Ham the Chimp

He Was the Real AstroChimp

See actual footage of Ham, NASA's Astronaut chimpanzee, who went into space, and returned home safely, way back in 1961.  He was fondly nicknamed the AstroChimp. 

He not only survived his history making journey, but lived a long life afterwards, in the company of other chimps, at the zoo.  

Wonder what he told his friends about his trip?

Ham Was Famous in the United States

We Called Him an AstroChimp

Ham, the chimpanzee, had an important mission to do.  

Scientists already knew that a living thing could survive a trip into space.  But, they just weren't sure how well their brains and muscles could function during weightlessness.  It was going to be Ham the Astrochimp and his trainerup to a chimpanzee named Ham to show them. 

His trainer taught him get treats by pushing levers. He did it well.  The big test would be if he could manage to do it in zero gravity.  If he could, then maybe human brains and muscles could work when their bodies were weightless, too.

Did he do it?  Yes!

On January 31, 1961, Ham launched from Kennedy Space Center on a Mercury Rocket.  He did everything he was supposed to, only just a little slower, because he was weightless.

Was his mission a success?  Yes, it was!  

It was such a success that  the United States was now ready to send its first human astronaut into space.

Alan Shepard launched aboard a Mercury rocket named Freedom 7 on May 5, just over three months after Ham's flight.   

Image: Ham and His Handler
By NASA [Public domain] 

Enos Paved the Way for Humans in Orbit

He Took Animal Space Travelt One Step Farther

After Ham, John Glenn became America's first man in space.  But, like Ham's, his flight was a sub-orbital one.

Now, it was time to send a human into orbit.  But first, there was one more important mission for a chimpanzee.   This time, it was Enos who went before a human did.  Just to prove it could be done.

Enos only orbited the earth two times, instead of three, like NASA had planned.  But, he still performed his mission well.

So it was that, thanks to a chimp, NASA was finally ready to put a man into orbit.  And they did.  On January 20, 1962, Lt. Col John Glenn was launched into space from Cape Canaveral on Friendship 7.  He sat inside a capsule atop a Mercury Atlas 5 rocket, like Enos had.    

Glenn made all three of the planned orbits around the earth.  He returned a national hero.  Enos was a big part of the success of the mission.

Enos: Chimp in Space

Footage from 1961

Many Insects and Animals

Have Flown Space Missions

Although this page is mainly about a few dogs and chimpanzees, as well as the fruit flies who went first, many other insects and animals have flown in rockets and shuttles, and even orbited aboard the international space station.  

At first, the reason animals were used was to find out if living things could survive zero gravity, and the very different atmosphere beyond earth.  

After scientists figured out it was possible to survive, they wanted to know other things.  And they still do.  Sometimes, they can't find those things out so easily using men and women.  So, animals still go into space today.

Here are some of the living things besides human beings that have been sent or taken aloft:


Ants Bees Beetles
Bullfrogs Cats Chimpanzees
Crickets Dogs Fruit Flies
Gerbils Guinea Pigs Jellyfish
Koi Lizards Mice
Monkeys Rabbits Rats
Sea Urchins Shrimp Silk Worms
Snails Spiders Tortoises 


Which countries have launched animals and/or insects on rockets or shuttles?

  • The (old) Soviet Union
  • The United States
  • Japan
  • France
  • China
  • Russia
  • Iran

NASA tells their story of Animals in Space on this page:


Updated: 06/03/2016, CruiseReady
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


CruiseReady on 08/01/2015

Thank you for your kind words, Candy. Those were pretty exciting times,

candy47 on 08/01/2015

Love this article! I remember when Sputnik went up and I remember the dogs and AstroChimp. Thanks.

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