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A Brief and Incomplete History of Launching Animals Into Space

Pretty much ever since humans discovered flight, we’ve been strapping animals into our new devices just to see what would happen.

Over the last 330 years or so, we’ve launched dogs, cats, chimps, monkeys, roosters, ducks, spiders, fruit flies, silk worms, ants, bees, moss, turtles, rabbits, jellyfish, amoebae, fish, hamsters, guinea pigs, goldfish, and one Enlightenment-era sheep—into the air, into orbit, and into space. While it was difficult to choose which of these brave, history-making animals were our favorites, here’s a list of just some of those that made us smile.

The Montgolfier Three

On a sunny September afternoon in 1783, two French brothers loaded a duck, a rooster and a sheep into a hot-air balloon, and launched them into the sky, making that unassuming barnyard triumvirate the first living beings ever to soar above the earth by human-designed power. While the duck, rooster and sheep returned to earth and, presumably, rank and file farm life, the brothers Montgolfier—Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne—were elevated to nobility by King Louis XVI, just a few years before the French Revolution made that title oh-so-gauche.

Albina and the Gypsy Girl

Perhaps taking a page out of the Montgolfier brothers’ book, the folks at the Soviet Space Program were big on strapping dogs (now affectionately known as “Space Dogs”) into their rockets and space shuttles, just to see what would happen. While a number of these brave young ladies—all of the dogs who went to space were female, on account of the space suit design—died in the course of the Space Race, we’re singling out Albina and Tsyganka, which means “Gypsy girl” in Russian, for special recognition because, well, because they were ejected out of a capsule 53 miles above the earth’s surface in specially-outfitted doggy spacesuits, and somehow survived.

The most famous of the Soviet Space Dogs is probably Laika, who the American press dubbed “Muttnik,” and who was the first Earthling ever to go into orbit, although she died a few hours into the trip due to stress and overheating. (The Russians, silenced by the formidable Cold War-era propaganda machine, didn’t come clean about that unfortunate snafu until 2002.)

Belka and Strelka

These famous Space Dogs were the first animals to go into orbit and make it back alive, along with their fellow passengers: a grey rabbit, forty-two mice, two rats and a pack of flies. The success of Belka and Strelka’s journey was no small thing in 1960, the height of the Space Race, and it paved the way for their human colleague, Yuri Gagarin, who became, eight months later, the first person to do what they had done. Strelka, for her part, was a born star. When she returned to earth, she got together with another male Space Dog and had puppies, one of which, Fluffy, was given to John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline as a diplomatic gift from Nikita Khruschchev. Fluffy went on to shack-up with one of the Kennedys' dogs, Charlie, and have four more puppies of her own (“pupniks,” as JFK called them). Belka and Strelka’s legacy lives on, both in puppies and in a Russian animated movie, “Belka and Strelka: Star Dogs,” which came out in 2010.

Baker and Able

In May 1959, a tiny squirrel monkey named Baker and a rhesus monkey named Able became the first two animals to fly into space in the nose cone of a ballistic missile, and return alive. During their journey, these two simian ladies reached a height of about 360 miles above the earth and were weightless for nine minutes. When they splashed back down to earth, they were collected by a U.S. Navy ship, taken to an air-conditioned officers' room, and flown to Washington, D.C. under military escort, where they immediately became national heroes. Their hairy little faces were splashed all over U.S. newspapers and on the cover of LIFE.

Unfortunately, Able died shortly thereafter during a medical procedure, and was later stuffed and displayed at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. As for Baker, she lived another quarter century, mostly at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. According to NPR, Baker received 100 to 150 letters a day from school kids all across the country up until her death in 1984, when 300 people attended her funeral. To this day, well-wishers still leave flowers and bananas at her grave.

Ham the Chimp

In January 1961, NASA launched a three-year-old chimpanzee named Ham into space. Over the course of Ham’s harrowing journey, the air pressure regulator got messed up, the rocket over-accelerated, the trajectory was overshot by 42 miles, and Ham was weightless for 1.7 minutes longer than his trainers had expected. When Ham’s spacecraft finally crashed back down to earth, it was 60 miles away from the nearest rescue ship, and it took them nearly 3 hours to get to him. Everyone feared the worst, but Ham, the intrepid chimp astronaut that he was, wasn’t fazed. Not only was it later determined that he continued to pull levers throughout the launch, weightlessness and reentry, as he had been trained to do—which demonstrated that humans could perform tasks in space, too; Ham emerged from the capsule totally unscathed and hungry. According NASA records, he proceeded to eat an apple and half an orange.

Ham’s incredible victory marked a major sea change for NASA: if they could get a chimp into space, they reckoned, they could get a human into space, too. And they did. Three months later, the United States sent Alan Shepard into space.

Space water bears

Image credit: Goldstein Lab

Yeah, you read that right. Space Dogs was so last season. It’s Space water bears now. In 2007, the European Space Agency sent a group of tiny tardigrades, known as “water bears” because of their shape, into space and discovered that these tough little guys are able to survive 10 days of exposure to open space with only their natural protection. No space suits, no oxygen tanks, no pressure capsules, just themselves. These incredibly sturdy little creatures are known to be able to survive in temperatures below -459 Fahrenheit and above 304 degrees Fahrenheit, and withstand 1,000 times more radiation than other animals. They are, in other words, nature’s natural animal astronaut.

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5 Subtle Cues That Can Tell You About Your Date's Financial Personality
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Being financially compatible with your partner is important, especially as a relationship grows. Fortunately, there are ways you can learn about your partner’s financial personality in a relationship’s early stages without seeing their bank statement or sitting them down for “the money talk.”

Are they a spender or a saver? Are they cautious with money? These habits can be learned through basic observations or casual questions that don’t feel intrusive. Here are some subtle things that can tell you about your date’s financial personality.

1. HOW THEY ANSWER BASIC MONEY QUESTIONS.

Casual conversations about finance-related topics can be very revealing. Does your date know if their employer matches their 401(k) plan contributions? Do you find their answers to any financial questions a bit vague—even the straightforward ones like “What are the rewards like on your credit card?” This could mean that your partner is a little fuzzy on some of the details of their financial situation.

As your connection grows, money talks are only natural. If your date expresses uncertainty about their monthly budget, it may be an indicator that they are still working on the best way to manage their finances or don’t keep close tabs on their spending habits.

2. WHAT THEY’RE WATCHING AND READING.

If you notice your partner is always watching business news channels, thumbing through newspapers, or checking share prices on their phone, they are clearly keeping abreast of what’s going on in the financial world. Ideally, this would lead to a well-informed financial personality that gives way to smart investments and overall monetary responsibility.

If you see that your date has an interest in national and global finances, ask them questions about what they’ve learned. The answers will tell you what type of financial mindset to expect from you partner moving forward. You might also learn something new about the world of finance and business!

3. WHERE THEY GET THEIR FOOD.

You may be able to learn a lot about someone’s financial personality just by asking what they usually do for dinner. If your date dines out a lot, it could be an indication that they are willing to spend money on experiences. On the other hand, if they’re eating most of their meals at home or prepping meals for the entire week to cut their food budget, they might be more of a saver.

4. WHETHER THEY’RE VOICING MONEY CONCERNS.

Money is a source of stress for most people, so it’s important to observe if financial anxiety plays a prominent role in your date’s day-to-day life. There are a number of common financial worries we all share—rising insurance rates, unexpected car repairs, rent increases—but there are also more specific and individualized concerns. Listen to how your date talks about money and pick up on whether their stress is grounded in worries we all have or if they have a more specific reason for concern.

In both instances, it’s important to be supportive and helpful where you can. If your partner is feeling nervous about money, they’ll likely be much more cautious about what they’re spending, which can be a good thing. But it can also stop them from making necessary purchases or looking into investments that might actually benefit them in the future. As a partner, you can help out by minimizing their expenses for things like nights out and gifts in favor of less expensive outings or homemade gifts to leave more of their budget available for necessities.

5. HOW THEY HANDLE THE BILL.

Does your date actually look at how much they’re spending before handing their credit card to the waiter or bartender at the end of the night? It’s a subtle sign, but someone who looks over a bill is likely much more observant about what they spend than someone who just blindly hands cards or cash over once they get the tab.

Knowing what you spend every month—even on smaller purchases like drinks or dinner—is key when you’re staying on a budget. It’s that awareness that allows people to adjust their monthly budget and calculate what their new balance will be once the waiter hands over the check. Someone who knows exactly what they’re spending on the small purchases is probably keeping a close eye on the bigger picture as well.

REMEMBER THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TALKING.

While these subtle cues can be helpful signposts when you’re trying to get an idea of your date’s financial personality, none are perfect indicators that will be accurate every time. Our financial personalities are rarely cut and dry—most of us probably display some behaviors that would paint us as savers while also showing habits that exclaim “spender!” By relying too heavily on any one indicator, we might not get an accurate impression of our date.

Instead, as you get to know a new partner, the best way to learn about their financial personality is by having a straightforward and honest talk with them. You’ll learn more by listening and asking questions than you ever could by observing small behaviors.

Whatever your financial personality is, it pays to keep an eye on your credit score. Discover offers a Free Credit Scorecard, and checking it won't impact your score. It's totally free, even if you aren't a Discover customer. Check yours in seconds. Terms apply. Visit Discover to learn more.

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Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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