By now, you've seen the amphibian invariably referred to in the press as "an unfortunate frog" being lifted towards the heavens after it wandered too close to a NASA launch pad in Virginia. But did you know that this frog was not the first to try (and fail) to reach space?
At The Guardian, Jason Goldman writes about the history of frogs in space (or, at least, frogs that were briefly pointed at space), which dates all the way back to September 19, 1959, when the US Air Force attempted to send up two frogs on board a Jupiter AM-23 rocket. Why frogs? Goldman explains:
Frogs were used because their inner ears turn out to be quite a useful model for the human inner ear, and the factors that induce motion sickness in frogs are the same as those for humans and other mammals. In addition to their use as model species, frogs were also logistically valuable thanks to their amphibious nature: preflight surgery could be performed out of water, but the frogs could then be kept in water during the experiment. This was important for two reasons: first, the water cushioned the critters from the vibration that comes when you launch an 18,000kg Scout rocket into space. Second, the water would cycle carbon dioxide and heat away from the frogs, keeping them cool. This was all possible because frogs can breathe through their skin while submerged in the comfortable 60F water.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.