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A smoke Persian cat perches next to a row of books.

Iran hopes to send a Persian cat to space in the near future.

Photograph by Willard Culver, National Geographic

Tanya Basu

National Geographic

Published September 18, 2013

Hey diddle diddle / The cat and the fiddle / The cow jumped over the moon… It might seem like a simple nursery rhyme, but to an extent, it rings true: Animals have long blazed trails for human space explorers.

Now comes word that a feline from Iran will be the latest to join this storied group of travelers.

Mohammad Ebrahimi, a senior space program official for the Iranian government, announced Monday that the country plans to send a cat—Persian, of course—to space. This comes on the heels of Iran's unconfirmed attempt to send a monkey earlier this year.

That news made us wonder: What other types of animals have been sent into space?

(Related: "The Unsung Heroes of the Space Program.")

Here are some common—and odd—animals who have reached for the stars.

  • Fruit flies: In 1947, fruit flies made history as the first beings to go beyond Earth's atmosphere. Good news for all the rotting fruit back home: They made it home alive.

  • Rodents: A frequent contributor to scientific understanding, mice began accompanying monkeys on flights beginning with Yorick. France's Hector the rat was launched in the 1960s. Albino rats were a popular choice in the 1980s.

  • Dogs: Laika captured the world's imagination when she was launched into orbit by the USSR on November 3, 1957. Laika was the trailblazer for many more pups in space.

  • Rabbits: What's up, doc? Marfusa was the first rabbit in space, launched from the USSR in 1959.

  • Frogs: The USSR sent a couple of frogs in 1959. Bullfrogs were a popular emissary.

  • Guinea pigs: The popular pet has been hurtled into space since the 1960s.

  • Cats: Felix the astronaut cat was set to be the first kitty in the cosmos, but Felix (wisely?) ran away. Felicette was chosen as a replacement in 1963, becoming the first feline to leave Earth.

  • Tortoise: As part of its random animal space program, the USSR sent one on a voyage around the moon in 1968.

  • Fish: A mummichog, a type of minnow, paradoxically swam in space in the 1970s.

  • Spiders: Arabella and Anita didn't quite enter the Andromeda Galaxy, but they did make it farther than their Earth-bound brethren.

  • Newts: Ten newts with amputated limbs were sent into space for scientists to study regeneration. Research from that flight was used to better understand human injuries.

  • Others: Parasitic wasps, flour beetles, water bears, amoebas, plants, fungi, chicken embryos, silkworms, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Mexican jumping beans, butterflies, brine shrimp, sand desert beetles, crickets, snails, carp, Japanese rice fish, sea urchins, jellyfish … The sky's the limit regarding the types of animals in space.

And let's not forget chimps, the animals whom humans genetically resemble most.

Chimps joined the high-flying club in the 1960s. Perhaps the most famous animal astronaut was Ham, the first space chimp, whose 115-mile-high (185-kilometer-high) trip in 1961 preceded Alan Shepard's first U.S. manned flight later that year.

Follow Tanya Basu on Twitter.

9 comments
C. Dufour
C. Dufour

Man if NASA could somehow make this cat an internet meme, they could solve their funding problems for the next hundred years!

Mike Mongo
Mike Mongo

Interesting article. Important, even. One correction: The animals who go to space are not in fact interstellar (yet). They are point of fact stellar. One day certainly we will have interstellar creatures but at this time we are still locked within our own solar system.

sue briggs
sue briggs

disgusting.  What do they think they will learn from this animal abuse?

J. Tomé
J. Tomé

Since I'm highly allergic, I do not oppose of sending the cats up, especially persians!

bob wright
bob wright

This is all blithe and upbeat, but they don't say how many of the animals ever came back from space, or how they died. 

reva madison
reva madison

I can think of a few Persians who need to be sent up - and left  there.

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