Yuri Gagarin was the first human being to go into space (in that race, the Russians won), but before he made it safely there and back, there were more than a few animals who tested out the equipment and the process…many of whom never made it back.

8. Malyshka (Russia, 1957)

One of the first doggies in space is looking happy with her spacesuit – she didn’t make it into orbit, but her flight proved that living things could make it into space (and back!).

7. Laika (Russia, 1957)

She was the first dog to successfully make it into orbit, though she did not return: the craft overheated and she suffocated.

Her trainers kept her in smaller and smaller cages in order to prepare her for the cramped quarters of the spaceship, Sputnik 2.

6. Gordo (Russia, 1958)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This little spider monkey managed to survive her orbit, but she didn’t make it through re-entry. The parachute malfunctioned and the craft crashed back to earth.

5. Belka and Strelka (Russia, 1959)

These dogs had a fighting chance, because the Russians were ready to not only figure out how to get animals into orbit alive, but how to bring them home that way, too.

4. Able and Baker (America, 1959)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After the Russians retrieved Belka and Strelka successfully, the Americans knew the time had come to catch up. They introduced Able and Baker to the world, intending to send them into space and bring them back safely.

They did return alive and became the first primates to go into space and come back.

3. Sam (America, 1959)

Photo Credit: NASA

After Able and Baker made it back safely, America sent a rhesus monkey into space to test some mechanics and life support systems. He also returned as good as new.

2. Ham (America, 1961)

Photo Credit: NASA

It was time to work on spacecraft controls, which meant we were ready for a chimp. Ham learned how to operate the craft instead of simply blasting along for the ride.

1. Zvezdochka (Russia, 1961)

This little doggie did the test flight for Gagarin, who would become the first human to be launched into orbit.

More animals were sent into space, even after human beings made their way to the moon. Dogs and monkeys, and even spiders and frogs have gone up there to satisfy one experiment or another. They’ve been indispensable to the advancements of humankind, whether they know it or not.

Hats off, little furry friends.

h/t: All That Is Interesting

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