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.

Posted on

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.

US Air Force / Via

Along with 11 mouse crewmates, Yorick the monkey was the first animal to survive a rocket flight on 20 September 1951, in something similar to the Aerobee rocket above. But don’t get too excited – he died 2 hours after landing. Two of the mice did too. Their deaths were thought to be a result of sitting in the New Mexico heat waiting for the recovery team.

3. Patricia and Mike, 1952.

United States Air Force /

Patricia and Mike became the first two monkeys to properly survive a rocket flight in 1952. Patricia died from natural causes two years later, and Mike lived until 1967 at the National Zoological Park in Washington, DC.

4. Mildred and Albert, 1952.

United States Air Force /

Also on the flight were white mice Mildred and Albert. They flew inside a slowly rotating drum so scientists could asses the affects of weightlessness on their movements. Watch a United States Air Force video about the flight here.

5. Laika, 1957.

Laika was living on the streets when she was taken in by Soviet space scientists, who preferred strays as they were already used to harsh conditions and lack of food. Laika was the sole passenger of Sputnik 2 and was the first animal to reach orbit. It was only announced after the launch that Laika would never be coming back to Earth. For years soviet scientists maintained that Laika only died when her oxygen ran out after a few days in orbit. But documents that came to light in 2002 reveal that she probably lasted no more than a few hours, dying from overheating and stress shortly after launch.

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.

NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center / Via

Able, an American-born rhesus monkey, and Baker, a South American squirrel monkey (pictured), flew to an altitude of 300m inside the nose cone of a US Army Jupiter missile. And they both came back unharmed! Sadly, though, Able died a few days later from the effects of anaesthesia as doctors removed electrode from under her skin. But Baker had a long life and was believed to the oldest living squirrel monkey by her death in 1984. People still visit her grave today, leaving bananas rather than flowers.

8. Sally, Amy and Moe, 1960.


Three black mice – Sally, Amy and Moe – were put into the nose of an Atlas missile in 1960 and rocketed 700 miles into space. It was the furthest any animals had been into space and returned to tell the tale. The purpose of their mission was to teach scientists about the effect of radiation from the Van Allen belts on living things.

9. Belka and Strelka, 1960.


Soviet space dogs Belka and Strelka were the first animals to reach orbit and return unharmed, after spending a day in space in August 1960. On their trip aboard Sputnik 5 they were accompanied by a rabbit, 40 mice, 2 rats, and 15 flasks of fruit flies and plants.

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.

NASA / Via

Enos was the first chimp to orbit Earth, in a Mercury-Atlas 5 capsule in November 1961. The flight was cut short because of a malfunction, but Enos still managed two orbits before returning to Earth and being safely recovered. His was the last test mission before John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, blasted off in February 1962. Glenn was pipped to the post by Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut, who was the first human to orbit Earth in 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.