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Watch: First Animals to Circle the Moon – The Epic Journey of Russian Horsfield’s Tortoises 

first animals to the moon

Meet the first animals who circled the moon – two Horsfield’s Tortoises.

While the spotlight of space exploration often shines on gleaming rockets and the exploits of astronauts, a quieter tale deserves telling. This story doesn’t involve metallic vessels or human daring but rather two unlikely heroes—a pair of Russian Horsfield’s tortoises who etched their tiny shells into the annals of spacefaring pioneers. Tucked aboard the Soviet spacecraft Zond 5, these unassuming creatures embarked on a historic voyage, earning them the prestigious title in the Guinness Book of World Records: the first animals to ever circle the moon. 

Quiet Heroes 

Horsfield's tortoise
Image by Nikolay Bulykin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The world awaited anxiously as a very unusual crew rocketed skyward in 1968. Tucked snugly within the Soviet spacecraft, Zond 5 weren’t your typical astronauts – no steely gazes or nerves of titanium. Instead, two unassuming Horsfield’s tortoises, their shells patterned like miniature constellations, embarked on a mission like no other: to become the first Earthlings to circle the moon. 

Resilient Explorers 

Russian tortoise
Beautiful close-up of a Russian tortoise or Horsfield tortoise, Agrionemys horsfieldii, lying in the grass. Image by MattLphotography via

These intrepid tortoises might not have sported the latest tech in their metal chariot, but their resilience was no less astounding. They faced the launch’s gut-wrenching rumble, the spaceflight’s gravity-defying squeeze, and the eerie silence of the moon with unwavering calm. Sure, they returned a touch lighter, but their spirits remained bright, their appetites undiminished. Picture these unlikely heroes, their shells—once accustomed to Earth’s gentle rhythm – now bearing witness to the moon’s breathtaking vista, a scene unseen by any living creature before them. 

Profound Impact 

Horsfield's tortoise
Image by user:Nicholasink at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Imagine these little guys rocketing through the cosmos like tiny green spaceships. Their aim was not just limited to research. They wished to demonstrate to the world that life, even in its most humble forms, can be unstoppable. They showed that even when confronted with the unknown, life finds a way to adapt and endure—a lesson that resonates deeply with all of us. 

Unusual Crew 

Russian tortoise
Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii), also known as the Central Asian tortoise. Wildlife animals. Image by wrangel via

But these intrepid tortoises weren’t loners on their lunar voyage. They shared their tiny spacecraft with a whole crew of plant buddies, creating a miniature Earth right there in the metal box. These leafy companions played a vital role, breathing life into the air for their reptilian friends, serving as a miniature reminder of the delicate balance of our planet and the interconnectedness of all living things.

Resilient Travellers 

Horsfield's tortoise
Image by Nikolay Bulykin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These shelled spacefarers may not have left their footprints on the dusty lunar surface, but their impact on space exploration is undeniable. They whisper a message even louder than a rocket’s roar: courage and resilience come in all sizes, even the kind with slow and steady steps! These unassuming heroes remind us that the most extraordinary feats can be achieved by the unexpected. 


Russian tortoise
Russian tortoise (Agrionemys horsfieldii), also known as the Central Asian tortoise. Wild life animal. Image by wrangel via

Their escapades serve as a reminder that even in this vast universe, the tiniest spark of life can make an impact. They teach you that greatness doesn’t always wear a cape; it can be hidden in the quiet resolve of the person next door facing impossible odds. Their tale is an invitation to celebrate your inner hero, whoever that might be, no matter how ordinary they seem.

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