Turtles in space!

On September 18, 1968, the Soviet Union’s Zond 5 spacecraft orbited the Moon and returned safely to the Earth; it was one reason behind NASA’s decision to change Apollo 8’s flight into the first manned spaceflight to orbit the Moon.

Zond Zond 5 was an unmanned spacecraft, but it was not uninhabited: “A biological payload of turtles, wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, bacteria, and other living matter was included in the flight. … It was announced that the turtles (steppe tortoises) had lost about 10% of their body weight but remained active and showed no loss of appetite.” That’s right: the first vertebrates to visit the Moon were Russian Tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii). They apparently survived their trip (unlike Laika); I wonder if they’re still around — they’re tortoises, after all.

More on the Soviet Zond program.