Animal Astronauts

Scientists were concerned about the unknown effects of weightlessness and other space environments on human astronauts. Thus, animals were launched into space before any humans. The following paragraphs describe some of the earliest animals astronauts. Today animals and insects are still launched into space as part of the space program.


The Soviet Union launched a series of Sputnik satellites. Sputnik 2 carried a dog named Laika into space on November 2, 1957. She was first living creature to orbit the Earth. Sources describe her as either a mixed-breed or a Husky. She lived for seven days in space, until her oxygen supply was exhausted. Her vital signs were monitored by sensors and transmitted to the Earth via telemetry signals.

The Sputnik 2 spacecraft weighed 1120 pounds.


 The U.S. Army launched a squirrel monkey named Gordo aboard a Jupiter AM-13 booster. The launch date was December 13, 1958. Gordo made the suborbital flight with no adverse effects, but could not be recovered because the flotation mechanism of the rocket's nose cone failed.


The U.S. launched two monkeys on a Jupiter booster on May 28, 1959. Both monkeys survived the 300 mile flight into space and were recovered. This was a suborbital flight.

One of the monkeys was a female rhesus monkey named Able. The other was a female squirrel monkey named Baker.

The two monkeys were instrumented with electrodes to monitor their vital signs during the flight. After the flight, Able died on an operating table as doctors performed surgery to remove the sensors from underneath her skin. The cause of death was the anesthetic.

Sam was a rhesus monkey. Sam was launched into space on board the first U.S. Little Joe animal flight on December 4, 1959. He survived the suborbital flight and was recovered.

The U.S. launched a chimpanzee named Ham on a suborbital flight on January 31, 1961. He flew in a Mercury spacecraft launched on a Redstone booster rocket. The launch site was Cape Canaveral, Florida.

He weighed 37 pounds and was four years old.

Ham experienced about seven minutes of weightlessness during his suborbital flight. A number of medical sensors were attached to Ham to monitor his vital signs.

During this flight, Ham performed some simple tasks such as pulling a right-hand lever when a white light came on and a left-hand lever when a blue light came on. The experiment was designed so that he would be rewarded with banana pellets for making the correct choice but would received an electric shock through his feet for an incorrect choice.

Furthermore, Ham's rocket experienced a number of anomalies. As a result, he traveled 122 miles further down range than planned. Also, he experienced a re-entry deceleration of almost 15 G. His spacecraft splashed down in the ocean and took on water before the rescue helicopters arrived, but he was successfully recovered.

Afterwards, Ham was in good spirits and posed for pictures with the sailors on the recovery ship.

A chimpanzee named Enos was launched into orbit on November 29, 1961. The spacecraft was called Mercury 5. Enos made two orbits of the Earth. He was recovered after the flight.

The Soviet Union sent some turtles, flies, and worms around the the Moon in the Zond 5 mission in 1968.
Two monkeys were launched in a Russian Bion No. 11 spacecraft, on December 24, 1996. They spent two weeks in space.
One of the monkeys, named Multik, died one day after the spacecraft landed back on Earth. The monkey died during a post-flight surgical operation. The purpose of the surgery was to collect muscle and blood cell samples.

Multik was a macaque monkey.

The other monkey, named Lapik, survived.



Space Index | Science Home