Between the 1940s to the 1960s, the race to space was in full swing. Who will get there first? The battle between the US and the Soviet Union was on. But before humans eventually went to space in the 60s, scientists sent animals to outer space to test the waters, if you will. Starting in 1948, the United States launched flights containing primate astronauts to help learn about the biological effects of space travel.
Who Were the First Animals in Outer Space?
Back in the day, we knew very little about the physiological effects of spaceflight. While there were brave astronauts vying for a chance to take flight, researchers were concerned for their health, one of the main fears being a shutdown of the cardiovascular systems in the microgravity environment.
During the quest to put human beings in space, the United States’ space rival, the Soviet Union, mainly used dogs. The Soviets launched their first canines to space in 1951. But before the Soviets sent a pooch to space, the US beat them in the animal sector of the Space Race.
The US sent Albert II, a little Rhesus Monkey, who will remain in history as the first monkey in space.
First Came One, Then Came Two:
Albert preceded Albert II. The first Albert, who was also a Rhesus monkey, had an unsuccessful mission in 1948 onboard a US V2 rocket, the year before the US successfully launched the first mammal in space. On June 14, 1949, Albert II, clad in his spacesuit and all reached a distance of 83 miles to become the first monkey in space. Albert was anesthetized during his flight aboard the V2 flight and was embedded with sensors to measure his vital signs.
Unfortunately, Albert II died upon impact at re-entry to earth after a parachute failure. However, he did encourage more animals in outer space. After Albert II made it into space, Albert III, IV, and V all followed suit.
The animals had implants and sensors on them so scientists could understand the impact of weightlessness and radiation at a high altitude may have on living beings. Once technology advanced, even cameras were used on later missions. Videos footage shows the primates decked out in their full astronaut gear reaching the high altitudes.
Who doesn’t love a monkey? And a monkey in a spacesuit? That’s gold. Without these small creatures who knows what our space program would look like today. We hope Albert I and all the other Alberts who succeeded him are in monkey heaven swinging in the trees, eating bananas, and picking the fleas off of Albert II.
An Ode to Albert
You may have noticed a recent change to our logo. Our new look is a tribute to Albert. He’s one of the long lines of creatures who paved the way for human spaceflight, and we think he’s pretty rad!