What Types of Animals Have Been to Space and More Questions From our Readers
You ask, we answer – our Smithsonian experts fill you in on the truths behind your burning questions
What types of animals have been to space?
Melody Parker, Washington, D.C.
Fruit flies, mice, monkeys, chimpanzees, guinea pigs, rabbits, frogs, reptiles—a menagerie. Probably the most famous is Laika, the dog launched aboard Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. That flight was intended as a quick reiteration of the Soviets’ ability to hurl a large satellite into orbit, and the scientists didn’t even consider returning Laika to Earth; she died from excess heat and radiation within hours of achieving orbit. But her comrades Strelka and Belka safely completed a daylong mission on August 19, 1960.
Cathleen Lewis, Curator of Aeronautics, National Air and Space Museum
It seems mosquitoes should be battered out of the sky during rainstorms. So why do I still get bitten?
Dan Roger, Ashburnham, Massachusetts
In rain, flying insects have two problems. One is colliding with a water droplet; the other is the turbulence the droplets create in the air column. Small insects such as mosquitoes don’t fly, but rather swim through the air, so in turbulence they’re tossed all over. In rain most of them probably take cover under leaves and elsewhere and come out as soon as it stops. If you’re bitten while it’s raining, it may be because you’re in a sheltered place. But I don’t recommend standing in the rain as a solution.
Matt Buffington, Entomologist, National Museum of Natural History
When did the campaign button make its first appearance, and is it now an endangered species?
Emmett Thomas, Bethesda, Maryland
American political buttons can be traced back to brass buttons made to celebrate George Washington’s inauguration. Buttons were used in campaigns as early as the 1840s. The campaign button that we know—with the pin back and plastic covering—was patented in time for the 1896 presidential race between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan, and I don’t think it’s going to disappear anytime soon. For demonstrating your support of a candidate, the button is still a wonderful tool.
Harry Rubenstein, Curator of Political History, National Museum of American History
Mammals have navels and bird hatchlings have small scars from where the umbilicus attached their gastrointestinal tract to the egg yolk. Do reptiles have navels?
Blythe Grayson, Fishers, Indiana
No, but reptile hatchlings do have a bit of an umbilical scar; that’s common among egg-laying animals. That scar fuses over and disappears very quickly, usually in three or four days.
James Murphy, Curator of Reptiles, National Zoo
Why don't spiders stick to their own webs?
Claire Wiener, Washington, D.C.
Spider webs have nonsticky lines (the radii, or spokes) and sticky lines (connecting the radii). When building their webs, spiders take care to touch the sticky lines only with parts of their legs that have a chemical coating and branching hairs that reduce adhesion. Afterward, they avoid the sticky lines as much as possible.
William Eberhard, Arachnologist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
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