A couple of days ago I was amazed to find a photo of two unlikely space travelers, a white dog and a grey rabbit. Back in the late 1950’s space programs in the Soviet Union (Russia) and United States used animals to make high altitude and orbital flights. Tragically, many times they were one-way trips. It was inhumane on a lot of levels. Otvazhnaya (the dog) and Marnushka (the rabbit) braved a high altitude test flight on July 2, 1959 aboard an R2-A rocket (pictured on the right). Another dog, Snezhinka, also went on the flight. Fortunately, all three animals were recovered successfully. This rabbit went on to make five more successful high altitude test flights in the following year. Then in August 1960, two dogs, Belka and Strelka, an unnamed gray rabbit, 40 mice and 2 rats, were launched in Sputnik 5. Again in September 1962 a rabbit was aboard the Artemis that made 12 complete earth orbits. However, Artemis collided with space debris and sustained critical damage. Fortunately, the rabbit was recovered unharmed 933 miles off the east coast of Brazil.
NASA’s History of Animals in Space web page states, “after the manned lunar landing of Apollo 11, the role of animals was limited to the status of biological payload." Rabbits were included as a “biological payload” species. After finding this reference to rabbits, I was unable to locate any further information on rabbits utilized in space flights. There are a couple of websites touting the use of rabbits as a food source for human space colonies on Mars, but I don’t take those too seriously. I hope by the time we venture to Mars, humans will have stopped serving rabbit as a dinner entree on planet Earth.