Far more animals have been sent into space than humans since the beginning of space travel. Russia and the USA are the main sources of orbiting animals to date. Since 1940, animals have been a vital part of these two countries’ space programs. Russia even sent man’s best friend into orbit in the 1950s. The Kepler Telescope Channel on YouTube talks about the launching animal exploits with a brief history lesson.
Scientists and World Governments like Russia and the USA say that the use of animals is essential for humanities efforts in space exploration.
The use of animals for anything these days falls under deep scrutiny by the populous and animal rights activists. Despite protests, seven national agencies have used animals in space testing. Russia, USA, France, Argentina, China, Japan, and Iran have all used animals.
Interestingly, the early use of animals by Russia and USA served to test the survivability of flight. Scientists would test biological processes and the effects flight and micro-gravity would have on them. Many of these animal experiments are discussed further in the book Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle by Colin Burgess and Chris Dubbs.
The history of animals in aeronautical exploration began in 1783 with a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.
Animals have been the source of human testing since 1783 when a sheep, a duck, and a rooster were sent up in a hot air balloon. High altitude balloon launches followed. From 1947 to 1960, the USA launched fruit flies, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, dogs, frogs, goldfish, and monkeys to heights of 144,000 feet. These animal flights tested radiation exposure, psychological responses, and life support systems.
Consequently, space flight naturally followed in the 1940s when the USA sent fruit flies into orbit via a V2 rocket. In the 1950s the USA launched mice, however, the rocket didn’t make it, killing the animals. Russia followed and sent two dogs and these pups became the first higher organisms to reach space.
The USA and Russia started launching and killing animals more rapidly after the 1957 orbit of Laika the dog.
Laika the Russian dog was the first animal to be sent into orbit on the 3rd of November 1957. Laika, however, never made it back to Earth. The flight had no reentry strategy and the Russian dog was left to die in the outer atmosphere of space. In 1958, Gordo, a squirrel monkey was never found after reentry, landing in the Atlantic Ocean.
Fast-forwarding to 2007, a water bear survived 10 days exposed to the elements after being launched into orbit. A Russian cockroach became the first Earth creature to give birth in space. The killing of animals in the name of science is indeed controversial. As a result, however, we would be nowhere near present day exploration. Was it all worth it?