Astronaut Alan Shepard may have been America's first man in space when he went up in 1961, but he wasn't the nation's first simian in space. That honor belongs to another Al -- Albert II, a rhesus monkey that blasted aloft in 1949 aboard a V2 rocket.
Little Al was just one in a long line of monkeys, chimps, dogs, and other mammals that "volunteered" to help the U.S. explore the final frontier (Fruit flies, spiders, fish, frogs, and other non-mammals have also made the journey). From the Soviet space dog Laika, who flew aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957, to NASA's charismatic astro-chimp Ham in 1961, to Pishgam, a monkey that reportedly was launched on a suborbital fight by Iran's space program in January, mammals have continued to help us explore the heavens -- mini-spacesuits and all.
Some of these intrepid creatures returned safely to Earth. Others weren't so lucky. But all helped provide scientists with a wealth of information on the physiological effects of spaceflight.
And they looked pretty cute while they did it.
Check out the slideshow below for some of the most charming astronauts ever to lift off into space.