Encyclopedia Ocelotica: Animals in space – “we bravely sent a menagerie of creatures ahead of us”


Before humans ventured beyond the atmosphere, we bravely sent a menagerie of creatures ahead of us to check it was safe. 

The first living things to slip the surly bonds of Earth were humble fruit flies launched aboard a V2 rocket in 1947 by US scientists. 

Bafflingly there are no statues commemorating these early space pioneers – what’s the problem? It wouldn’t even need to be that big.

The insectronauts did a great job and survived their trip but struggled to report back what they had witnessed in any meaningful way.

These were followed by an unwitting rhesus macaque called Albert on June 11 1948 also onboard a V2 rocket – unfortunately he died of suffocation during the flight. 

His journey was not a wasted one, heavily underlining the need for oxygen during flight to the edge of the atmosphere. 

The imaginatively named Albert II was up next. 

Thankfully he survived the flight into space and must have been feeling mightily relieved right up until he impacted with the ground at 120mph after his parachute failed to open. 

His journey was not a wasted one, heavily underlining the need for much slower landing speeds.

Monkeys are not stupid. So it must have been concerning for the next one to learn that its name was Albert III. However, Albert III must have taken some solace in the sacrifices made by Albert I and II that meant that space travel was now safer than it had ever been. 

And he was probably humming cheerfully to himself when his V2 rocket exploded at 35,000 feet. 

His journey was not a wasted one, heavily underlining the need for scientists to remember that although the V2 was designed as a Nazi weapon of war, explosions should be avoided in the context of space travel. 

Poor old Albert IV probably resigned himself to a sticky end when he spotted his name written on his Nasa name badge. 

He also died when his parachute failed to deploy and he impacted with the ground at 120mph. 

His journey had been a wasted one, heavily underlining the need for scientists not to waste journeys.

And when Albert V also smacked into the ground at 120mph scientists decided to stop sending monkeys called Albert into space. And so it was that Yorick (Hang on, wasn’t he the dead guy in Hamlet?) found himself sharing a rocket with 11 mouse crewmates.

Everyone survived the journey into space! And the whole crew survived the landing! Although two of the mice baked to death in the New Mexico sun while waiting for the recovery team to finish their coffee. That was in September 1951.

Meanwhile, the Russians had stolen a march on the US four months previously by sending two dogs into space – Tsygan and Dezik – and they returned alive. Furthermore they were recovered from their spacecraft because the Russians were aware that dogs die in hot space capsules.

And as a sassy follow up – on November 3 1957,  the Russians put a dog called Laika into space as the second orbiting object after the Sputnik. Laika was amusingly nicknamed Muttnick by the western media. There was a great celebration of this achievement although the fact that poor old Laika was left to die in space was brushed aside – the technology to bring her back alive had yet to be developed. 

On the upside, at least Laika had a statue built, unlike the fruit flies. Numerous other dogs were launched into orbit and numerous others on sub-orbital flights before 12 April 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.  He was probably quite surprised when he made it back alive.