Some of these space-faring animals gave their lives for the sake of discovery, but many of them returned safely to Earth. Here are the stories of these incredible and brave animal explorers.

Fruit flies aboard an American V-2 rocket, launched on February 20, 1947. The rocket reached 68 miles (109 km) and made those flies the first animals in space. All of them were recovered alive.

(via warhistoryonline)

Albert II, a small Rhesus Monkey, became the first monkey in space in a U.S.-launched V-2 rocket on June 14, 1949. The rocket reached the height of 83 miles (134 km), but the passenger was not as lucky as the flies mentioned above. Albert II died on impact after a parachute failure.

(via Universe Today)

Another American V-2 with a mouse during the flight of Albert V, August 31, 1950. The parachute system failed and the mouse died on impact.

(via Apollo Explorer)

The first dogs in space, named Tsygan (means Gypsy) and Dezik, launched by the Soviet Union on the Soviet copy of the German V-2 named R-1, July 22, 1951

They reached the altitude of 68 mi (110 km) and both of them were recovered unharmed.

The space dog box used on suborbital and early orbital flights

(via Wikimedia Commons)

Laika, the first animal in orbit, aboard Sputnik 2, November 3, 1957. Unfortunately she died when the oxygen supply ran out.

(via Retronaut and History by Zim)

A Jupiter IRBM (AM-13), launched with a U.S. Navy-trained South American squirrel monkey named Gordo on board on December 14, 1958. The monkey wast lost due to a parachute fail, but he survived the 10G of launch, and 40G of reentry. Five months later on May 28, 1959, another Jupiter IRBM was launched with a rhesus monkey named Miss Able and a squirrel monkey named Miss Baker. They were in the nose cone of the missile, spent nine minutes in weightlessness, and returned back to Earth alive.

Miss Baker on a model of a Jupiter IRBM

Able died four days later due to a bad reaction to anesthesia, but Baker lived until 1984.

(via Wikimedia Commons)

Belka (Squirrel) and Strelka (Arrow), the first animals in orbit, who could safely return to Earth. They were accompanied by forty-two mice, two rats, a rabbit and some plants and fungi. They spent a whole day aboard Korabl-Sputnik-2 (also known as Sputnik 5) on 19 August 1960.

Just an additional fact: One of Strelka's puppies named Pushinka (it means Fluffy) was presented to JFK's daughter by Nikita Khrushchev. There was a real romance between Pushinka and a Kennedy dog that resulted in four puppies called pupniks by JFK.

(via Yuri's Night and The Register)

Ham the Chimp, the first Hominidae launched into outer space, in a Mercury capsule on a Redstone rocket, January 31, 1961. He had been trained to pull levers to avoid electric shocks and receive bananas.

The famous hand shake welcome after the flight

(via Wikimedia Commons 12)

Frogs and guinea pigs in the space for the first time, with Chernushka, the dog, a cosmonaut dummy and a mice, made one orbit on board Korabl-Sputnik-4 (Sputnik 9), 9 March 1961

(via Claude LaFleur, 12apr)

The first astronaut cat, Félicette, launched on October 18, 1963 in a capsule on top of a French Véronique AG1 rocket from the Algerian Sahara Desert

The French wanted to send Félix (left), who was a Paris street cat, but somehow he managed to escape and was replaced with Félicette (right) shortly before launch. Both of them had electrodes implanted into their head to transmit their neurological states back to Earth. Félicette was safely returned to Earth.

(via Purr'n'Fur and Catnipsum)

The first animals to fly around the Moon and return to Earth on Zond 5, launched on September 15, 1968 with two Russian tortoises (also the first ones in space), meal worms, plants, seeds, wine flies and other bacterias. The reentry capsule entreat the Earth's atmosphere seven days later with the whole surviving biological payload. The tortoises had lost about ten percent of their body weight.

(via Amy Shira Teitel and Planet4589)

The Orbiting Frog Otolith (OFO-A) spacecraft with two bullfrogs onboard, sent into orbit to study the adaptability of the inner-ear balance mechanism to weightlessness, November 1970

(via Wikimedia Commons 12)

The first spiders (two Garden Spiders) and the first fish (a mummichog) in space, on Skylab 3, launched on July 28, 1973

(via Wikimedia Commons 12 and Astronautix)

Top image: Sam, a cheeky 7lb rhesus monkey, prepares for his flight into space. Sam rode a Project Mercury type capsule and travelled 55 miles high and 200 miles out into the Atlantic, December 1959. Photo by Keystone/Getty Images.