Monkeys and woodchucks and cats, oh my!
Discover all the critters great and small who made their contribution to the history of aeronautics.
A gray tabby named Kiddo was the first cat to attempt to cross the Atlantic in 1910. The cat stowed away in a lifeboat on the airship America before takeoff, leading to the historic first radio communication from an aircraft: “Roy, come and get this goddamn cat.”
British pilot John Moore-Brabazon made the first official flight in Great Britain in 1909. Several months later, he took a flight with a piglet in a wicker basket strapped to the wing, proving to the world that “pigs can fly.”
Leading airship designer and pilot Umberto Nobile took his fox terrier Titina along for not one, but two flights to the North Pole! Both dog and master survived a harrowing crash after the second flight on the airship Italia left them stranded on ice in 1928.
In 1928, the cat of German automobile industrialist Fritz von Opel took a ride in his Rak 3 rocket car, which reached over 180 miles per hour. The cat was not pleased.
One of the most flamboyant and successful pilots of the 1930s, Roscoe Turner, was famous for breaking aviation records and flying with a lion cub named Gilmore on his lap. The popular pair even inspired the comic strip “Col. Roscoe Turner’s Flying Adventures,” featured in the Evening Star.
In 1932, Dr. Leon Pisculli, parachute jumper Edna Newcomer, and a woodchuck named Tailwind took off in the Bellanca Skyrocket The American Nurse, attempting a non-stop flight from New York to Rome. Shortly thereafter, the plane went missing and Tailwind and the others were never seen again.
Canines Belka and Strelka orbited the Earth over a dozen times on board Sputnik 5 on August 19, 1960, becoming the first animals to survive orbital flight. Three years later, Strelka gave birth to puppies, one of which was given to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline.
A squirrel monkey named Baker and a rhesus monkey named Able became space pioneers when NASA launched them in a capsule in 1959. After a fifteen minute flight, including nine minutes of weightlessness, Baker and Able successfully landed in the South Pacific, earning them the title of the first living creatures to return to Earth alive from space.
- Search Chronicling America to find other newspaper articles about these animals and more!
- Allan Janus, Animals Aloft: Photographs from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Piermont, NH: Bunker Hill Publishing Inc., 2005).