Slideshow: Animal astronauts

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Iran's space monkey

Space may be the final frontier, but for animal astronauts, it's hardly anything new. See gallery

Iran claimed Monday to have sent a monkey into space. If true, the monkey would join a long list of animals who have blasted off into the heavens. According to NASA, monkeys, chimps, dogs and other animals have been exploring space since the 1940s. NASA said the original purpose of sending animals was to research the effects of prolonged weightlessness; scientists weren't sure at the time how humans would cope with zero gravity.

Reporting by Michelle McGuinness.


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Ham became the first chimpanzee in space when he launched Jan. 31, 1961. Ham hit an altitude of 157 miles and a top speed of 5,857 mph. After nearly seven minutes of weightlessness and a 16.5 minute flight, Ham returned safely to Earth. NASA credits Ham with paving the way for the launch of America's first human astronaut, Alan Shepard, on May 5, 1961.

Ham was the first chimp, but not the first animal. It was monkeys and not chimps who led the way for Ham. NASA calls Blossom "an unsung hero of animal astronauts." Blossom launched June 11, 1948, but the event got little attention. Later, in 1951, Yorick became the first monkey to live through a space flight. He and 11 mice reached 236,000 feet before being recovered.

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Soviets send dogs

The Soviets began sending dogs to space in the 1950s. The first two were launched Aug. 15, 1951. Dezik and Tsygan became the first canine suborbital astronauts and were successfully recovered after their flight. That September, the U.S.S.R. sent two more dogs, but both died. NASA said in two years the Soviets launched nine dogs total into space.

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In 1957, according to NASA, the U.S.S.R. launched Laika into orbit. The dog, who eventually became known as "Muttnik," only lasted a few hours in space. Laika was the first animal to orbit Earth.


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Sam, an acronym for the Air Force's School of Aviation Medicine, became one of the most well-known monkeys of the space program. Launched Dec. 4, 1959, he traveled 51 miles up before landing safely in the Atlantic. Within a few hours, Sam the monkey was recovered. NASA said Sam lived on with no ill effects after his mission. He even had a mate, Miss Sam, who launched on her own mission Jan. 21, 1960. She reached a height of nine miles and returned in good condition.

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When talking about animals in space, it's easy to think only of dogs, chimps and monkeys. But plenty of other brave creatures launched skyward, including Hector the rat. France launched him in February of 1961. He was successfully recovered after hitting a height of 93 miles.

NASA: File
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Laika was the first animal to orbit Earth, but on Nov. 29, 1961, Enos became the first chimpanzee. He was supposed to make three orbits, but returned after two due to technical difficulties including a malfunctioning thruster. He was in good condition following his flight, but died 11 months later.

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In 1973, NASA sent Arabella, seen above, and another spider, Anita, into space. They launched July 28 so NASA could analyze their abilities to spin webs in space.

Numerous other creatures have braved space missions, including insects, fish, newts, frogs and even fungi and mold. Plants, eggs, cells and seeds have also been launched and studied.

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Multik the monkey traveled with fellow-monkey Lapik on a 14-day flight launched Dec. 24, 1996. He died shortly after landing, raising questions about the ethics of using animals for research. NASA thereafter dropped out of participation in a planned, similar mission.

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Making history

Early animal explorers paved the way for more creatures to shoot off into space in the following decades. According to NASA, since 1983, dozens of animals have reached space. NASA said the brave creatures "gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement."

See NASA’s extensive timeline of life science research in space


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