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I know that cats, dogs, apes, guinea pigs, and a few other animals and insects have been sent into outer space.

But what was the first animal which has been sent into space (or better: into “orbit”)?

Looking for the answer online returned contradicting answers. My instincts tell me it might have been insects, but I would like to know for sure.

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    $\begingroup$ When I was little, protists were thought of as belonging to the animal kingdom, and it's possible they have been thrown into space on impact shards since billions of years ago. But now they have their own kingdom, so they don't count. $\endgroup$ – Selene Routley Mar 22 '15 at 9:54
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There's a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to this exact topic, so I'm just going to quote the first instance, and the rest is then available on the page:

The first animals sent into space were fruit flies aboard a U.S.-launched V-2 rocket on February 20, 1947. The purpose of the experiment was to explore the effects of radiation exposure at high altitudes. The rocket reached 68 miles (109 km) in 3 minutes and 10 seconds, past both the U.S. 50-mile and the international 100 km definitions of the edge of space. The Blossom capsule was ejected and successfully deployed its parachute. The fruit flies were recovered alive. Other V2 missions carried biological samples, including moss.

And on the same page regarding first animals that were in orbit:

On November 3, 1957, the second-ever orbiting spacecraft carried the first animal into orbit, the dog Laika, launched aboard the Soviet Sputnik 2 spacecraft (nicknamed 'Muttnik' in the West). Laika died during the flight, as was intended because the technology to return from orbit had not yet been developed. At least 10 other dogs were launched into orbit and numerous others on sub-orbital flights before the historic date of April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

You mention in your question "contradicting answers", but you don't really explain what you found contradicting about them, or where. One possible source of confusion that comes to mind is different definitions of "outer space" and at what altitude above the sea-level we actually count something as being "in space", but it's nowadays generally considered at 100 km (62 mi), i.e. the Kármán line which is also used in the Outer Space Treaty. I can't think of other sources of confusion though, so please clarify what you meant in your question, if that's not it.

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  • $\begingroup$ No, you are correct; that was the source of my confusion. Thank you - accepted! (I would like to up-vote your answer too, but it seems as if I need 15 reputation points to do so. I am sorry I can not do so now... will get back to that at a later time then.) $\endgroup$ – cHiMp Dec 28 '13 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ @cHiMp No problem, that's just some fake internet points don't worry about it. As long as you're happy with the answer, that's what it's all about here. :) And welcome to Space Exploration! $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Dec 28 '13 at 20:54
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    $\begingroup$ I am happy for sure. Have a nice weekend and an even better rest of the year! 8) $\endgroup$ – cHiMp Dec 28 '13 at 20:55
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On November 3, 1957, the second-ever orbiting spacecraft carried the first animal into orbit, the dog Laika. Laika, the first animal in space, did not die peacefully by poison after six days as initially reported, but died with in hours from overheating & stress. Russia kept it secret until 2002. source

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  • $\begingroup$ What is the reason this answer was down-voted? It is correct and in line with the one already accepted. $\endgroup$ – mins Mar 21 '15 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ It seems likely that the answer was down-voted because it doesn't answer the question posed, namely " what was the first animal in space", but instead answers the question, "what was the first animal in orbit". orbit != space $\endgroup$ – Kirkaiya Mar 26 '15 at 20:05

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