We all know chimps and dogs have been to space.
But did you know one of the earliest animal astronauts was a mouse?
I was so fascinated by the true stories of animal astronauts that I decided to include an illustrated timeline at the end of my new picture book, called Stellarphant ⭐🐘🚀
I couldn’t fit much detail into the book, though, so I’m sharing my research here.
So let’s get started with the very first animal astronaut …
🥁🥁🥁 * drum roll * 🥁🥁🥁
1947: FRUIT FLY
Date: Feb 20, 1947
Mission: V-2 Rocket No.20
The very first earthlings to travel into space!
The United States launched fruit flies in a V2 rocket to an altitude of 109km (68mi), testing them for radiation exposure.
The fruit flies were recovered alive.
Many years later, fruit fly eggs were also among the first bits of Earthling life to land on the far side of the moon! They were in a small biosphere experiment in the Chang’e 4 Chinese probe which landed on January 3rd, 2019. So far, not even humans have been to the far side of the moon; all our moon missions landed on the near side.
1949: ‘ALBERT II’, RHESUS MACAQUE
Date: June 14, 1949
Mission: Albert II
(aka V-2 Rocket No.47,
aka Blossom No.4B)
While Albert II did reach space, he sadly did not survive the journey back to Earth.
‘Project Albert‘ was a series of rocket test flights in the late 1940s. The first five tests used German V-2 rockets which had been captured by US forces at the end of World War II. Most of the Project Albert flights included a small monkey as a simulated pilot. The first flight was called Albert I, so the monkey involved was also named Albert. The second flight was called Albert II, and so the monkey involved was named Albert II … and so on. The first four tests included monkeys (Alberts I, II, III and IV), while the fifth flight included a mouse who for some reason was not called Albert V. Actually, the mouse is up next …
Date: August 31, 1950
Mission: Albert V
(V-2 Rocket No.51)
The first mouse in space. Name unknown. It reached an altitude of 137km (85mi) in a US-modified V-2 rocket.
Sadly, the mouse did not survive the flight.
as mentioned earlier, while this mission was called the Albert V flight, the mouse was not called Albert V.
Just to complicate things, there was a monkey called Albert V who flew on a test flight a year later (April 18, 1951), but that flight wasn’t named Albert V – it was called ‘Aerobee rocket test No USAF-12’. Rolls of the tongue, doesn’t it. Imagine if they’d given that name to the monkey as well.
And there was a mission the year after that (May 21 1952, USAF-26) that had two mice on it, one called Mildred and one called Albert. I hope that clears things up??
1951: ‘TSYGAN’ & ‘DEZIK’, DOGS
Date: July 22, 1951
Mission: Flight IIIA-1
The first dogs in space! Tsygan and Dezik reached an altitude of 110km in their USSR-made R-1 rocket; they did not go into orbit. Both dogs survived.
while the US space program sent monkeys and apes as some of their first astronauts, the USSR chose to send dogs; the Soviet scientists thought that dogs would be “less fidgety in flight” than monkeys or apes.
like all the dogs selected for the USSR’s early test flights, Tsygan and Dezik were strays. The Soviet scientists believed that stray dogs would be more resilient and better able to handle the stresses of space travel than dogs that were used to living with the creature comforts of a home.
the Soviet space program only used female dogs as the device they’d designed to uhh, collect the ‘number 1s and 2s’, was easier to fit on a female dog than a male dog.
1957 – ‘LAIKA’, DOG
Date: November 3, 1957
Mission: Sputnik 2
Laika wasn’t the first dog in space, but she WAS the first earthling to orbit the Earth.
She travelled in a USSR-made spacecraft called Sputnik 2, which was the second-ever manmade object to orbit the Earth (the first being the unmanned satellite, Sputnik 1 which launched 32 days earlier).
Sadly, Laika did not survive the flight.
FACTS: Laika’s actual original name was ‘Kudryavka‘. ‘Laika’ was one of many nicknames she received in training, which roughly translates as ‘barker’. She was also nicknamed ‘Muttnik’ by the press outside of Russia. After her mission, Laika was seen as a national hero and commemorated in many ways, including on Russian postage stamps.
1958 – ‘GORDO’, SQUIRREL MONKEY
Date: December 13, 1958
Mission: Jupiter AM-13
(aka Bio-Flight No.1)
The capsule successfully re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere but the parachute malfunctioned; the capsule landed in the South Atlantic, 2400km (1300 nautical miles) from the launch site. Gordo and the capsule were never found.
A lot of these early stories are quite sad – most of the first animal astronauts didn’t survive, as scientists hadn’t quite figured out how to make their rockets and capsules as safe as possible yet. Thankfully, animal astronauts were more and more likely to survive spaceflight as time went on.
I’ll upload another post about the True History of Animals in Space in two weeks.
In the meantime, why not read my picture book Stellarphant, about an elephant who wants to become an astronaut?