The Quick 10: 10 Animals in Space

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1. Laika. You might have heard of little Laika, the first animal to enter the final frontier. Not much was known about space at the time "“ we weren't even sure if humans could withstand entry beyond a certain point. So poor Laika the 11-pound stray dog was sent to test that out aboard Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. The world didn't really know what had happened to Laika until relatively recently "“ reports in 1999 and 2002 revealed that the dog died just several hours after takeoff, from overheating and from stress. Although scientists said that they had planned to euthanize the dog with a bit of poisoned food after a certain amount of time or when it appeared that she was suffering, the recent reports indicated that no such thing ever happened. Poor dog. And it turns out that she pretty much died in vain "“ Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists responsible for Laika's journey, 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.

gordo2. Gordo. About a year after Laika's demise, the U.S. sent up Gordo the squirrel monkey because his genetic makeup was so similar to that of humans "“ he could withstand similar temperatures and pressures. Gordo passed the original test with flying colors "“ on December 13, 1958, he made a 15-minute flight, traveling 1500 miles laterally and 310 miles into the air. Unfortunately, it was the crash landing that did Gordo in. His parachute failed and he didn't survive, although NASA maintains that his vitals were still OK at the time of impact, meaning he likely drowned in the Atlantic and didn't overheat upon reentry.

able3. and 4: Able and Miss Baker. A rhesus monkey and a squirrel monkey respectively, these two were sent into space just a few months after Gordo to continue his experiments. Happily, the duo survived the round trip, withstanding speeds in excess of 16,000 km/h. Able didn't get to enjoy life back on solid ground for too long, though "“ one of the electrodes used to monitor his vital signs during the trip had become infected and he reacted badly to anesthesia during the resulting surgery. He's now on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Miss Baker lived to the ripe old age of 27, passing away in 1984.

5 and 6: Belka and Strelka. You might have heard of this pair for a couple of reasons - first of all, they were among the first living things to actually go into orbit and come back alive. They were accompanied by a vast menagerie of creatures, including a rabbit, mice, rats, flies and plants. When they came back, Strelka celebrated by having a litter of puppies with her colleague Pushok, another dog who participated in Russian space experiments. Nikita Khrushchev gave Caroline Kennedy one of the puppies "“ Pushinka "“ as a gift the following year. When Pushinka hooked up with a Kennedy dog named Charlie and had puppies, JFK liked to refer to their spawn as "pupniks."

CATS IN space7. Felix. It was France who launched the first cat into space in 1963. Some reports maintain that the cat was actually a female named Felicette, but whatever gender the cat was, it came back from its mission alive and well but probably very resentful (aren't cats resentful of most things?). Felix/Felicette isn't pictured here "“ this is actually a picture from NASA "“ but I thought this photo was too entertaining to pass up.

HAM8. Ham. Ham the Chimp was the first chimpanzee in space. His mission was to prove that he could complete tasks and thus show that people would be able to conduct experiments and move around and do things during flight, not just be passengers. Ham was trained to push a lever when he saw a flashing blue light, which he successfully did just a fraction of a second slower than he did on Earth. He made it back safe and sound on January 31, 1961, suffering nothing more than a little bruise on his nose from bumping around during landing. Thanks to Ham's heroic efforts, Alan Shepard was able to go into space just three months later. Ham lived a happy and healthy life, dying in 1983 of natural causes.

9. Anita and Arabella. Technically they should count as #9 and #10, but since they're so small I'll lump them into one. Anita and Arabella were spiders who were guests on SkyLab in 1973. Their purpose? To see if the gravity changes would allow them to spin webs as usual. After a day or so of being freaked out (wouldn't you be?) they did, but it was noted that the silk produced by the spiders was finer than the samples they had spun in their pre-launch test environments, and the thickness of the web was more erratic than on the ground. Both spiders died during the mission from what appeared to be dehydration.

10. A tortoise. An unnamed tortoise, as far as I can tell, but if anyone knows the name of this dude, it will be our _flossers. On September 18, 1968, the tortoise became the first living thing to go into deep space. It orbited the moon and made its way back to Earth safely.

There's plenty more "“ it easily could have been a list of 10 dogs or 10 monkeys, actually. There's long been debate over whether this is animal cruelty or a necessary evil of space exploration "“ what do you think? I have to say Laika breaks my heart a little bit.

And because I can't resist a good Muppet tie-in:

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January 28, 2010 - 12:24pm
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