Animal Astronauts: The Unsung Heroes of Space Travel

Astroblogger Leroy Chiao belongs to an elite, exclusive club of earthlings who have ventured into space. Also in that club? Animals. Lots of them. This is tribute to the world's bravest "astronimals."

The subject of nonhuman space travel is a bittersweet one. It was an obvious—if occasionally cruel—way to sort out many of our functional uncertainties about leaving earth. In order to help humans avoid future space tragedies, these animals sometimes burned up in fiery crashes, though they generally were not, as is the preconception, often left for dead in the cold reaches of space. The various space programs' use of animals held another sort of tragedy as well: The first creatures to slip the surly bonds were sadly unable to fathom the pure awesomeness of what they were doing.

Here are some of the best, brightest, adorablest creatures never to know that they'd been to space.

Animal Astronauts: The Unsung Heroes of Space Travel

Animal Astronauts: The Unsung Heroes of Space Travel

Animal Astronauts: The Unsung Heroes of Space Travel

Animal Astronauts: The Unsung Heroes of Space Travel

Animal Astronauts: The Unsung Heroes of Space Travel

Ham, Albert and Spacebat images courtesy of NASA and JamesDuncan. Laika images from the Guardian and Thinkquest. Felix images taken from Purr-n-Furr.