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Humans aren't the only Earth-dwelling animals to face the final frontier. Our journey to the stars has been aided by a number of different animals both yesteryear and today!

Hosted by: Savannah Geary
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Why We Send Animals To Space

Could You Get Pregnant In Space?

The Surprising Benefits of Space Flies

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From dogs to fruitflies we've sent all sorts of animals to space. Some were sent up during the early space race to see if anyone could survive the journey, others are aboard the international space station right revealing how space flight affects life itself. While some of these non-human astronauts may have lived to walk on earth again, many are not alive today because of their missions. So, to show our appreciation for all these animals and what they've taught us, here's a video celebrating their accompli. Let's start by letting Kaitlyn address the elephant in the room: "Why would we want to send animals to space in the first place?" In 1961, cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. Since then more than 500 people have left Earth's atmosphere and 12 people have set foot on the Moon. But back when space travel was still very new, we didn't know whether life could survive in space. So scientists had to come up with ways to find out, and for decades they've been studying life in space with the help of some crawly, wiggly, fluttery, furry friends. These experiments were vital for helping scientists develop the grand new technology that we needed to take our first steps off of Earth. And since then, they've helped scientists study the effects of long term space travel on living creatures. The idea of using the animals to test flights goes back a really long time. The Montgolfier Brothers had a duck, a sheep and a rooster as the first passengers to ride in a hot air balloon in 1783. They wanted to test the effects of high altitude on live animals. The sheep was a stand in for a human, while the duck, thanks to its ability to fly, was considered a control. It would be a long time before we got to send anything beyond our atmosphere though. After several launches in the late 1940s for simpler life forms like fungi and insects, the first mammal in space was Albert II, a rhesus monkey on June 14, 1949 -- 20 years before humans landed on the moon. Scientists wanted to find out how exposure to all the radiation would affect mammals. Albert II launched in a V2 rocket from White Sands, New Mexico. He reached an altitude of 132 km, and he survived that part, but he died because of a parachute failure during landing. In the Soviet Union, researchers chose dogs over primates, since they thought dogs were more likely to sit still during flight, making them easier to monitor.

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And the Soviets were the first to recover mammals alive after space flight. The dogs, Dezik and Tsygan, landed safely in 1951. Then, in 1957, a dog named Laika became the first animal to orbit Earth, though she died a few hours into the flight. These early experiments were crucial in developing the equipment to keep an animal alive during takeoff and while they were in flight. Each launch was a test of new technology. A lot of animals were lost, but scientists learned from these failures, engineering things like better rockets, flight capsules, and landing gear. After some missions failed because of faulty parachutes for example, American engineers redesigned the parachutes, so that in 1951, they were able to successfully recover Yorick, the rhesus monkey, alive. Once they'd worked out those details, they were finally ready to start sending humans out of our atmosphere. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space on April 12, 1961, and less than a month later, Alan Shepard because the first American astronaut in space. So, we figure out it was possible for life to survive in space and sent some more humans up there. Animals were still incredibly important for space research, especially when it came to studying the effects of microgravity and radiation exposure. In 2003 and 2004, for example, scientists sent some simple invertebrates to the international space station. A group of nematode worms, C. elegans. They wanted to examine the impact of space living on DNA, whether living and reproducing in space would lead to any observable changes at the genetic or cellular level. C. elegans was a good choice for this research because the worms have a relatively small genome and are sed in research all the time, so their genes have been completely mapped. Plus, with their very short life spans, they're great for studying effects over generations. Overall, the researchers didn't find too many changes in gene expression, but they did find that worms within the same group showed the same small changes. That might mean that different populations might have different sensitivities to space flight, which could explain why some astronauts have a harder time adjusting to orbit than others. These kinds of experiments are still going on today. The ISS even has a special rodent research facility, a habitat designed specifically for studying mice in space. Thank you to all of these non-human astronauts. Thanks to these creatures for starting to better understand how living and moving in space impacts us. With so many different goals comes a huge variety of animals that are best suited for each mission.

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