Thanks, space animals! You helped us get here!

Where were you 50 years ago? (Were you even alive?) On July 20, we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. It was the culmination of years of research into space travel. We’re in another time period of pushing for space exploration, with the updated goal of landing a man on Mars. Because of that, children’s books about the first moon landing and space books in general are popular right now.

12 men walked on the Moon, but since the Apollo era, no one has been back since 1972. However, since 2000, humans have lived in the microgravity of the International Space Station (ISS). We needed to understand what happened to the human body during an extended stay in space. The most famous experiment was astronaut Scott Kelly, whose twin brother stayed on Earth, while Scott spent a year in space. Scientists studied how bones, muscle and other body parts differed between the twins after a year in space.

Animals Supported Space Travel

The past 50 years have been important ones for space travel as scientists answered many questions about supporting life in space. Part of that has been doing animal experiments to study responses of different animals to the environment of microgravity. This has included monkeys, dogs, tortoises, mice, and insects.

Animals in space date back to testing of hot air balloons by the French Montgolfier brothers. They sent a sheep, a duck and a rooster up in the balloons to see if ground dwelling animals could survive. Later, animals went up to 27 miles high; these included fruit flies, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, frogs, goldfish and monkeys. Albert II, a rhesus monkey, launched into space on June 11, 1949, going up 83 miles. Unfortunately, he died on impact after a parachute failure. The death rate among monkeys at this stage was very high: some sources say that about two-thirds of all monkeys launched in the 1940s and 1950s died on missions or soon after landing. In 1951, the monkey Yorick was the first monkey to survive space flight and return to Earth alive.

During the early exploration years, the Soviets sent nine dogs into space, some more than once. France flew their first rat (Hector) into space on 22 February 1961. The United States launched Biosatellite I in 1966 and Biosatellite I/II in 1967 with fruit flies, parasitic wasps, flour beetles and frog eggs, along with bacteria, amoebae, plants and fungi. In September 1968, the Soviets sent the Horsfeld tortoises to circle the moon, the first animals to survive deep space. From the Wikipedia article, here’s a list of Animals in Space:

Over 500 animals have lived in space and taught us about surviving in that harsh environment.
  • 1947 Fruit flies, 68 miles high
  • 1949 Albert II, rhesus monkey, 83 miles high
  • 1950 Mouse, space
  • 1951 Dogs Tsygan (Gypsy) and Dezik, space but not orbit
  • 1951 Mice, sub-space
  • 1957 Dog Laika – orbited Earth, plus 10 other dogs
  • 1958 South American squirrel monkey Gordo
  • 1959 Monkeys Able (rhesus) and Baker (squirrel monkey). Baker lived till November 29, 1984
  • 1959 two space dogs and Marfusa, the first rabbit in space
  • 1959 2 frogs and 12 mice
  • 1960 Dogs Belka and Strelka, a gray rabbit, 40 mice, 2 rats, 15 flasks of fruit flies and plants
  • 1960 Three black mice: Sally, Amy and Moe
  • 1961 Ham the chimp
  • 1961 Enos the Chimp, orbited Earth
  • 1961 Dog Chernushka, some mice, frogs, and a guinea pig
  • 1961 French rat, Hector and two other rats
  • 1963 Cat Felicette and another cat
  • 1967 Two French monkeys
  • 1964-66 Chinese mice, rats, and two dogs
  • 1966 Dogs Veterok (Little Wind) and Ugolyok (Blackie), 22 days in orbit, the longest space flight for a dog
  • 1966-7 Fruit flies, parasitic wasps, flour beetles, frog eggs, bacteria, amoebae
  • 1967 Argentenian rat Belisario, and other rats
  • 1968 Horsfield tortoises, circumlunar voyage, along with wine flies, meal worms and other animals
  • 1969 Macaque monkey, Bonny
  • 1950-60 Soviets has passenger slots for 57 dogs, but some dogs went several times
  • 1969 Cai monkey, Juan
  • 1970 Two bullfrogs
  • 1972 Nematodes
  • 1972 Pocket mice: Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum and Phooey. Circled moon for six days with astronaut Ronald Evans
  • 1975 Pocket mice, first fish (mummichog, first spiders (garden spiders Arabella and Anita)
  • 1975 Tortoises, rats, mummichog fish and zebra danio fish
  • 1980s – eight monkeys, zebra danio fish, fruit flies, rats, stick insect eggs and newts
  • 1985 two squirrel monkeys, 24 male albino rats, and stick insect eggs
  • 1985 10 newts
  • 1989 chicken embryos (experiment designed for a student contest)
  • 1990 Four monkeys, frogs, fruit flies, brine shrimp, newts, fruit flies, sand desert beetles
  • 1990 Chinese guinea pigs
  • 1990 Japanese tree frogs, quail eggs
  • 1995 newt
  • 1990s – US sent crickets, mice, rats, frogs, newts, fruit flies, snails, carp, medaka (Japanese rice fish), oyster toadfish, sea urchins, swordtail fish, gypsy moth eggs, stick insect eggs, brine shrimp, quail eggs, and jellyfish
  • 2003 silkworms, garden orb spiders, carpenter bees, harvester ants, Medaka, Nematodes, and quail eggs
  • 2006 Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Mexican jumping beans, South African flat rock scorpions, seed-harvester ants
  • 2007 Tradigrades, also known as water-bears, cockroaches (one conceived while in space)
  • 2009 Painted lady and monarch butterfly larvae for a school experiment
  • 2010 Iranian mouse, two turtles, and some worms
  • 2011 Golden orb spiders named Gladys and Esmeralda, with fruit flies to eat. Tardigrades and extremophiles
  • 2012 Medaka fish for new Aquatic Habitat on ISS
  • 2013 Iranian monkey
  • 2014 Pavement ants
  • 2014 one male and four female geckos
  • 2014 Twenty mice
  • 2015 Twenty mice
  • 2016 Twenty mice
  • 2018 Twenty mice

Nefertiti the Spidernaut: The Jumping Spider Who Learned to Hunt in Space

It would be impossible to tell the story of each animal who has gone to space and taught us about how to survive in that harsh environment! But one story of a spider stands out. It’s tempting to give her human qualities, but she was just a spider. A hungry one! She learned to modify her hunting methods to adapt to the micrograviy of space. And she survived to come back to Earth alive and grow fat again.

Read her story!

Nefertiti the Spidernaut |
2017 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book

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