Firsts in Space

First animals in space

Laika the dog featured on a Romanian stamp
Credit: Public Domain

In 1947 the first living things went to space. They were two fruit flies! The United States launched the flies on a V2 rocket. In the 1950s, the USA and USSR sent lots of animals to space. These included mice, monkeys, rabbits, cats, and dogs. Scientists were testing if the creatures could survive the journey. Some test animals survived, but sadly not all. 

Today, animals are sent to space to test how they cope floating in microgravity. When animals take part in these experiments, their welfare is a key concern. 

First animal to orbit Earth

In 1957, Laika the dog went to space in the spacecraft Sputnik 2. She survived the launch and was the first animal to orbit Earth. Sadly, Laika died during the test flight. Laika's flight led to the first successful human space flights. 8 other Russian dogs orbited the Earth during space flights in the 1960s. All were stray dogs found on the streets of Russia.

First humans in space

The Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin was the first human to go to space. In 1961, he travelled on the USSR's Vostok 1 rocket. Yuri made a full orbit of the Earth in 1 hour 45 minutes. He returned to Earth by ejecting himself from the spacecraft and parachuting to the ground. He became a global celebrity when he returned to Earth.

In 1961, American astronaut Alan Shepard became second person in space. He was the first person to pilot an orbiting spacecraft. Yuri's Gagarin's flight was controlled by an automatic pilot. Alan was later part of the Apollo 14 mission and walked on the Moon in 1961.

Yuri Gagarin & Valentina Tereshkova
Credit: Khalip / Яков Халип

First woman in space

Valentina Tereshkova was the first women in space. She was a Russian cosmonaut, like Yuri Gagarin. Valentina piloted the Vostok 6 rocket in 1963. She completed 48 orbits of the Earth during her three days in space. Valentina had not flown a plane before she trained as an astronaut. But she had a lot of experience of parachute jumps!

First space walk

Another Russian, Alexei Leonov, was the first person to leave a spacecraft while it was in space. In 1965, he spent 12 minutes outside Voskhod 2, 5 metres from the spacecraft. We call this activity a 'spacewalk'. Astronauts use spacewalks to make repairs to the outside of their vehicle. 

First man on the Moon

Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon on 20th July 1969. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were NASA's Apollo 11 mission crew. Buzz became the second human on the Moon one day later on 21st July 1969. Michael remained in the spacecraft, orbiting the Moon while the other two crew members explored the Moon's surface. 

First British person in space

Helen Sharman became the first British astronaut in 1991. She was also the first woman to visit the Mir Space Station. Helen applied to be an astronaut after hearing an advert on the radio. She had to train for 18 months and learn to speak Russian before travelling to space.

Want to learn more about Helen Sharman? Why not research her career and write a biography? Our series of literacy lessons can help you.