The Most Heroic Animal Astronauts That Ever Lived
These animals are some of the unsung heroes of the space race. We salute you, Laika and co.
1. Albert I–IV, 1948–49.
The US used rhesus monkeys, all called Albert, in their V2 rocket tests. Albert I was the first monkey astronaut, but died of suffocation during his flight. Albert II was the first monkey in space, as his flight made it past the 100km altitude that we define as the start of the cosmos. Albert II survived the flight, but died on impact after a parachute failure. Later came at least two more monkeys named Albert, who met similar fates.
2. Yorick, 1951.
3. Patricia and Mike, 1952.
4. Mildred and Albert, 1952.
5. Laika, 1957.
Oleg Gazenko, who led the experiments, later said: “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.”
6. Gordo, 1958.
Squirrel monkey Gordo, also known as "Old Reliable", was launched from Cape Canaveral in a Jupiter AM-13 rocket. It reached an altitude of 310 miles and landed in the South Atlanic on its return to Earth. Unfortunately, a technical malfunction prevented its parachute from opening. Despite searching, the US never recovered Gordo's body or the rocket.
7. Able and Baker, 1959.
8. Sally, Amy and Moe, 1960.
9. Belka and Strelka, 1960.
10. Pchyolka and Mushka, 1960.
Pchyolka and Mushka spent a day in orbit on 1 December 1960, but died during reentry. The official Soviet media led the public to believe that the spacecraft had burned up in an accident. But in fact it had been purposely destroyed after the retro rockets failed to fire, meaning the spacecraft would land outside the Soviet Union and could potentially have been recovered by a foreign government.
11. Ham, 1961.
Ham was launched into space in 1961, although he didn't earn his name (an abbreviation of Holloman Aero Med) until he was safely returned to Earth. He was the first chimpanzee in space and experienced 6.6 minutes of weightlessness during his 157 mile altitude flight.
12. Enos, 1961.
13. Félicette, 1963.
France was the first, and so far the only, country to send a cat to space (though Iran is threatening to send a Persian cat to orbit). Felix the stray was trained up and due to blast off in October 1963. But he escaped at the last minute, and a female cat named Félicette took his place. She went up 130 miles in 15 minutes and came back down with the help of a parachute, unscathed.
14. Veterok and Ugoyok, 1966.
Launched aboard Kosmos 110, Veterok and Ugoyok, whose names mean "Breeze" and "Little Piece of Coal" respectively, set the record the for longest time spent in space at 21 days. They still hold the canine record, and humans only passed the same milestone in 1974 with the Skylab space station.