‘Noah’s Ark’ paved way for hu­mans in space

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - WORLD -

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.

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