12 types of animals, up to now, have taken a great leap for mankind in the task of helping future space travel. From the humble fruit fly in 1947 to diminutive tardigrades, with their super human like properties, how animals react to space exposure continues to be of primary importance to space missions.
- Fruit flies
- 32 monkeys and apes have been to space, including the rhesus macaque,
pig-tailed monkey, cynomolgus monkey, squirrel-tailed monkey and chimpanzee.
- Tortoise (steppe)
- 12 Algae
Fruit flies were the first living creatures purposely jetted into space. These insects were transported 67 miles into the air aboard a V2 rocket on 20 February 1947. V2 rockets were developed by the Nazis in World War 2 to destroy British cities. The technology was seized by US forces at the end of the war and used for space missions by some of the world’s most advanced scientists.
Launching from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico as part of a research mission, the fruit flies
were unknowing, record breakers. Fruit flies have been used in space experiments many times since, especially in tests on weightlessness effects on the the immune system and cardiovascular system.
- The first trip into space with fruit flies onboard lasted just 3 minutes
Little Knowledge of Space Effects on Animals
At the time, little was known as to the effects of cosmic radiation on organic matter. As fruit flies have a similar genetic make-up to humans, they were seen as ideal candidates for research. When the capsule containing the flies had been located, scientists found that the flies’ genetics had not been mutated by radiation found in space, which paved the way for future human space flight.
Canine/Dog of Mixed Breeds
The first animal to make an orbital spaceflight around the Earth was the dog Laika. November 3rd, 1957, marked the day the dog was jetted star-ward by the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2.
Laika was a young, mostly-Siberian husky. She was rescued from the streets of Moscow. and was deemed perfect as she had had a tough experience of hunger and cold conditions.
In modern times, alarmingly, one of the scientists behind the Sputnik 2 mission, revealed that Laika had died by the fourth circuit of flight from overheating, five months after take off, 2,570 orbits, before the craft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.
An unexpected rise in temperature due to loss of a heat shield sealed her fate. Her remains disintegrated during re-entry, along with Sputnik 2 on 14 April 1958. With one meal and only a seven day oxygen supply Laika was unwillingly a passenger on a one way suicide, space flight. There are reports that a female scientist broke protocol by feeding Laika before liftoff.
What was the First Animal to Survive a Trip to Space?
The 1-pound squirrel monkey, Miss Baker in 1959 was the first living creature to be sent into space and live afterward. She lived until 1984. passing away at the age of 27, she was was given a hero’s burial at NASA’s Space and Rocket Center.
Able & Baker made the historic journey May 28, 1959 in a Huntsville-built Jupiter rocket. The two monkeys traveled to an altitude of over 300 miles and 1,700 ground miles. OWhen the small monkeys returned they became stars, though Able unfortunately passed away when having an electrode removed after landing.
The surviving squirrel monkey’s new home at the Space & Rocket Center in Alabama, became a popular attraction for several years.
Tardigrades – The Amazing Creatures Capturing Scientists Attention Today
Tardigrades (AKA Waterbears) are a phylum of eight-legged segmented micro-animals that hold remarkable abilities to withstand extreme conditions. The tiny creatures are able to withstand extremely low and high pressures, oxygen starvation, high radiation levels and starvation.
Tardigrades have survived exposure to outer space which makes them prime candidates for space research. Only 0.5 mm long (0.02 inches) long they can be found in algae, deep sea, mud volcanoes and Earth’s most extreme landscapes.
Underpinning NASA’s need to understand how organisms survive in extreme environments, Lead Biologist, Dr. Thomas C. Boothby, said,
“We want to see what ‘tricks’ they use to survive when they arrive in space, and, over time, what tricks their offspring are using”. The Doctor of the Department of Molecular Biology in Laramie and principal investigator of the experiment added: “Are they the same or do they change across generations? We just don’t know what to expect.”
“About 20,000 tardigrades went up to the space station on Thursday. As of right now my lab does not have any additional plans to send samples up, but we’d love another opportunity in the future.”Lead Space Station Biologist, Dr. Thomas C. Boothby Writing to FantasticWildlife.com, on 6th of May 2021
The overall goal for using animals in space research is the development of countermeasures or therapies for resisting the ailing effects of prolonged space flight. Let’s hope animals don’t get harmed in the process. One thing for sure, we are grateful to the 12 types of animals sent into space.
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