‘Noah’s Ark’ paved way for humans in space
MORE than three years before Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, a dog called Laika was the first living creature to orbit the Earth on November 3 1957.
The stray from Moscow is one of many animals who preceded humans in the conquest of space; like most of the others, she did not survive.
“These animals performed a service that no human could or would have performed,” the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) said.
“They gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanity’s many forays into space.”
In June 1948, rhesus monkey Albert I was the first mammal to be sent up to space in a rocket, on a Nasa mission to test its reaction to weightlessness. He reached 63km in altitude.
A year before, the United States had sent fruit flies to an altitude of 100km in a V-2 rocket.
Tsygan and Dezik in August 1951 were the first dogs to be sent into space on a sub-orbital flight for the Soviets, returning alive. But the first full orbit of Earth by a living being was accomplished by Laika, a small mongrel sent up in the Soviet Sputnik 2 on November 3 1957, enclosed in a metal container.
Initial reports said she withstood the 1 600km journey, but it emerged that she died after a few hours.
In August 1960, the Soviet Union sent something of a Noah’s Ark into space, including dogs Belka and Strelka, a rabbit, 40 mice, two rats and 15 flasks of fruit flies and plants.
It was the first orbital flight from which animals returned alive.
Strelka later gave birth to a litter of six puppies, one of which was given to US president John F Kennedy as a gift for his children.
Research with Ham, the first chimpanzee in space, in January 1961 paved the way for the first space flight by an American, Alan Shepard, one month after Gagarin’s historic mission in April 1961.
In October 1963, France was the first to send a cat into space, named Felicette. She replaced Felix, who ran away on the eve of departure.