Ask Harley

What were the first animals to be sent into space?

In the late 1950s, both the United States and the Soviet Union had ambitious space development programs. Ultimately, the Soviets sent the first man into space (Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961).

However, before men could be sent into space, scientists had to study the effects of space flight on living beings. Toward this end, the Soviets sent dogs into space, while the Americans sent monkeys and chimpanzees.

The first Russian dog, Laika, was launched in a pressurized 500 kilogram (1,100 pound) capsule on November 3, 1957. Unfortunately, Laika died in space after a few days.

A little over a year later, on December 12, 1958, the U.S. sent a squirrel monkey named Old Reliable into space (but not into orbit). Old Reliable survived the flight, but died during the recovery of the capsule. On January 21, 1959, a chimpanzee named Ham was successfully sent on a short flight. This time, the animal was recovered successfully.

Finally, on November 29, 1961, an American chimpanzee named Enos became the first animal to orbit the Earth and return alive.

Less than 8 years later, on July 20, 1969, the American Neil Armstrong became the first person in history to walk on the moon.

(You might be wondering, whatever happened to the surviving pioneers? Enos, the chimpanzee, retired from active duty, after which he ran for public office, successfully representing the state of Arkansas in the United States senate for over 16 years. Neil Armstrong resigned from the space program in 1971 to become a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati. In 1979, he retired, later becoming the chairman of an electronic systems company in New York.)