The first animals in outer space were fruit flies launched in a captured Nazi V-2 rocket on Feb. 20, 1947. The flies reached an altitude of 68 miles (108 km) and were recovered alive by parachute.
While many flights into space may have accidentally carried bacteria and other forms of life on board, the first living creatures intentionally sent into space were fruit flies. These were transported aboard a V2 rocket on 20 February 1947. The fruit flies were launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico as part of a research mission. The unnamed rocket travelled 67 miles into the air before parachuting back to Earth. NASA currently recognizes the altitude of 66 miles (100km) as the point where space officially begins. Therefore, the fruit flies are considered the first animals ever to reach the final frontier.
The V2 rockets were the world’s first long-range guided missiles and were used by Germany during World War II. The missiles could fly at a top speed of 3,500 miles per hour and strike targets over 200 miles away. Following the war, the US seized many of these rockets and used them for research purposes, laying the groundwork for future space launches. Wernher von Braun, who designed the V2 was even involved in the designing of the Saturn V rocket for NASA. The flies were the perfect passengers for the flight as their compact size, and relatively light weight made their storage easy and conserved on fuel consumption. At the time, little was known as to the effects of cosmic radiation on organic matter. As fruit flies have a similar genetic make-up to humans, they were seen as an eligible subject for testing and research. On the safe recovery of the flies’ capsule, the scientists found that the flies’ genetics had not been mutated by the radiation, which paved the way for future human spaceflight.