5 historical space travel facts

From the moon landing to the first dog to orbit the earth, we bring you five historical space travel facts…

1) The Apollo 11 moonwalkers had no insurance

When Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin travelled to the moon in 1969, none of the astronauts were covered by life insurance – despite apprehension over whether they would return from their mission.

Faced with the possibility that they may not return safely to earth, the three men devised a plan that would help provide financial security for their families: the astronauts signed photographs of themselves that their families could sell in the event of their deaths.

2) Sputnik stunned the world

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, marking a new age of space exploration. The satellite, named Sputnik, was the size of a beach ball, and took 98 minutes to successfully complete an orbit of earth.

Other countries were caught off guard – they weren’t expecting the Soviets to launch their satellite so soon. America didn’t launch its first satellite until January 1958.


US astronaut Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, taken during the first Lunar landing of the Apollo 11 space mission by NASA. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

3) The first pooch to orbit the earth was a stray

In November 1957, just a month after surprising the world with the launch of Sputnick 1, the Soviets sent the first dog into space to orbit the earth. A dog named Laika – a stray found in Moscow – was chosen to take part in the follow-up mission on Sputnik 2.

Sadly the pooch suffered from overheating just a few hours after the start of the mission and died in space.

4) The ashes of Pluto’s discoverer orbit the dwarf planet

American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh made the remarkable discovery of Pluto in 1930. He requested that, following his death, his ashes be sent into space.

Tombaugh died on 17 January 1997, and his ashes were earlier this year sent into space on the NASA spacecraft New Horizons. His are the first human remains to be sent outside the solar system.

In a small container attached to the upper deck of the probe, which recently orbited Pluto, Tombaugh’s ashes were affixed to the spacecraft with an inscription that read: “Interred herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system's 'third zone' Adelle and Muron's boy, Patricia's husband, Annette and Alden's father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde W. Tombaugh (1906-1997)."


Clyde Tombaugh, 1997. (Photo by File photo/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images)

5) A number of monkeys have been sent into space

The first monkey to be sent into space launched from New Mexico on 11 June 1948. Albert I, a rhesus monkey, was aboard a V2 rocket and reached an altitude of 39 miles during his trip, but suffocated following a technical malfunction.

A year later another monkey named Albert II was sent into space, this time reaching an altitude of 83 miles. Despite surviving the launch, Albert’s capsule failed to open its parachute and it crashed on impact, killing Albert II.

Albert III took a fatal trip into space in September 1949. His V2 rocket exploded after reaching an altitude of just 2.6 miles. Another rhesus monkey, Albert IV, took off from White Sands and reached an altitude of 81 miles in 1949, but was also killed when the recovery canister failed and the rocket crash-landed.

You can read more about Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, here.

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