On July 20th, 1969, millions of people watched the live broadcast of Neil Armstrong landing on the untouched lunar surface. This landing was doubtlessly one of the most momentous achievements of mankind. However, behind such special triumphs of the manned space missions are the sacrifices that had to be undertaken in order to let astronauts explore the space and unleash many scientific revelations. Let’s take off this journey acknowledging some of our unsung heroes of space exploration, our animals that daringly took up this perplexing step that man could not!
Formerly, animals were sent to investigate the possibility of survival of a spaceflight, the various biological processes, and the numerous effects that microgravity and weightlessness would have on humans. They wanted to understand how safe and feasible it is to launch a living being into space and bring it back unharmed. About six nations across the world have sent animals into the zero gravity environment of space, namely, the United States, the Soviet Union, France, Japan, China, and Iran.
One of the first animals to experience space flight was the ‘fruit flies’ on February 20th, 1947. It tested the psychological response and radiation exposure at high altitudes. The US based rocket V-2 aviated 68 miles (109 km). After the blossom capsule got ejected and deployed the parachute, they were recovered alive.
A primate named Albert II was a successful launch by NASA on June 14th, 1949. However, the monkey died after the parachute failed during its descent.
Laika, a stray dog that wandered the streets of Moscow was chosen to be a candidate for spaceflight in the year, 1957. Soviet scientists thought she would be already accustomed to harsh conditions like cold and hunger, and would easily adapt to the space environment. She was kept in a small cage and taught to eat nutritious gel. Sputnik II rocket carried Laika into orbit, wherein she survived for about 6 days after reaching space. However, her life-support system gave out as Sputnik II burned up that made her panic resulting in her death.
A squirrel monkey named Gordo was flown at an altitude of 600 miles (965 km) on December 13, 1858. Due to the failure of a flotation device, he died.
Subsequently, Able, rhesus monkey, and Baker, a squirrel monkey were launched together on May 28th, 1959. Their journey of 300 miles (482 km) was a safe one. But, Able died four days after she underwent a surgery to remove an infected electrode from under her skin. Baker lived till 1984 due to a kidney failure at age of 27.
A chimpanzee called Ham, named after the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center was comprehensively trained to perform tasks during spaceflight. He gained much limelight after his flight on January 31, 1961. He was trained to pull levers and receive bananas. He became the first animal to intermingle with a space craft rather than merely having a ride.
The cat named Félicette was also launched on October 18th, 1963. Electrodes were implanted into her head in order to measure her neural impulses. She was successfully retrieved as the parachute descended safely.
Veterok and Ugolyok, two Russian dogs, were launched into space on February 22nd, 1966. They traveled for a record-breaking 22 days straight.
During the early 70’s, two garden spiders called Anita and Arabella were sent to space to study how orbiting affects a spider’s ability to spin webs. They spun webs that were symmetrically perfect, though their thickness varied as compared to the earthbound spiders.
July 10th, 1985 saw the flight of ten newts boarding the Bion 7. Their limbs were amputated in order to understand the regeneration in space, and how humans might recuperate from space injuries.
September 2007 witnessed tardigrades surviving for a 10-day exposure to open space. They were capable of withstanding dehydration, extreme conditions like cosmic rays or freezing temperatures, and could still reproduce and recover.
Iran had recently launched Pishgam rocket on January 28, 2013, and sent a monkey. It was retrieved alive, according to Iranian news agencies.
In such a way, all kinds of animals like bees, ants, crickets, rats, urchins, moths, brine shrimp, spiders, rabbits, beetles, tortoises, scorpions, cockroaches, jellyfish, guinea pigs, and butterflies were used for testing the space environment.
Our animals may not be very famous, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that they have given a valuable contribution to our scientific community and are certainly the pioneers in exploring the space technology. Kudos to them!
Watch this video to get a better spectacle of animals in mission ‘SPACE’.