My space journey: paws and claws and... feelers?

By admin
22 June 2016

Turns out Buzz Aldrin wasn't the first "buzz" in space. YOU intern Daniel De Carvalho blogs about his ‘travels through space’ at Gateway to Space: the Exhibition in Joburg.

Turns out Buzz Aldrin wasn't the first "buzz" in space. YOU intern Daniel De Carvalho blogs about his ‘travels through space’ at Gateway to Space: the Exhibition in Joburg.

"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!"

There are plenty of great quotes from many great space pioneers but let us not forget about the chattering, screeching, buzzing and barking of our great animanauts.

You have heard of the dogs and the monkeys taking turns to board a rocket but the first living beings to travel to space were actually fruit flies!

My space journey: from wagons to rockets

On the 20 February 1947, the United States sent a V-2 rocket from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The purpose of the experiment was to explore the effects of radiation on living organisms at high altitudes.

The rocket reached a height of 109km in just three minutes and 10 seconds. That is an average speed of 2065.26316 km/h!

Incredibly, the fruit flies were recovered alive. So much for Buzz Aldrin being the first "buzz" up in space.

The adventure continues for our quadruped friends. Albert II, a rhesus monkey, became the first monkey in space in 1949.

On the 14 June 1949, Albert II reached an altitude of about 134km. Unfortunately, due to a faulty parachute in the retrieval process, poor Albert II died on impact.

Many monkeys were launched into space that followed and unfortunately most died during their missions or soon after. Albert II’s predecessor, Albert I, was the first to die on ascent to space, reaching an altitude of only 48-63 km in 1948.

On my wanderings through Gateway to Space: The Exhibition, I came across a large silver container with a small window. When looking through the window I saw a black and white copy of a monkey swinging in the container. The information board that accompanied this large vessel explained that the enclosure before me was a replica of the enclosures used as a test facility on Earth to study a monkey’s reaction to extended periods of isolation experienced in nearly spaceflight.

Gateway to Space Gateway to Space

Following the primates, were the canines. Tsygan (meaning ‘gypsy’ in Russian) and Dezik, were two dogs sent up by the Soviet Union on the in July 1951.  Carried by the R-1 IIIA-1 flight, the two canines were the first higher organisms that successfully recovered from a spaceflight after travelling into space, but not into orbit.

Although their contributions were great, they were not as great as that of Laika the dog.

On the 3 November 1957, the Soviet Union launched the second-ever orbiting spacecraft, the Sputnik 2. On the Muttnik, as the vessel was named by the West, was the first ever animal into orbit: Laika the stray.

Poor Laika then died during flight as the technology to return from orbit had not yet been developed. She became an international hero and was put on postage stamps by several countries.

Read more about Laika here

After Laika, many animal missions followed.

In 1968 the first tortoise was sent up into space by the Soviet Union. Along with the tortoise were several other animals such as wine flies and meal worms. These were the first animals into deep space. Many years later, in September of 2007, during their FOTOM-M3 Mission, the European Space Agency unveiled that tardigrades (also known as water-bears) were able to survive 10 days of exposure to open space, with only their natural protection.

So, while these animauts have never said great things to do with ’leaps for mankind’ or telling Houston we have a problem, their lives have been great contributions to the exploration of the unknown. Above and beyond, not hand-in-hand but paw-to-claw, they will never be forgotten.

For more information on the space journey we as mankind and animal-kind have travelled, go to the Gateway to Space Exhibition at the Sandton Convention Centre. The exhibition started will continue until the 31 of July 2016. With an educational exhibition and a family-orientated play area, excitement is never too far away. Tickets are available at Computicket. For more information go to the Gateway to Space Exhibition website at

Sources: Gateway to Space, Universe Today

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