A hamster has been launched into the stratosphere on a flying balloon – and made it back to Earth alive.
It reached an altitude of 23km as it entered the second layer of the Earth's atmosphere.
Space firm K.K. Iwaya Giken, based in Sapporo, Japan, developed a specialised space cabin for the rodent to sit comfortably in as it took in a once-in-a-lifetime view of our planet.
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After launching from Miyakojima on the Okinawa Prefecture on June 9, the hamster and balloon reached 23km in around an hour, climbing at a speed of 6.3m/s.
Monitoring sensors were placed inside the 60cm high and 50cm wide cylindrical cabin, keeping tabs on internal oxygen levels, temperature and pressure.
All of those stayed around the same as they are on the ground.
Although the trip was undoubtedly more exciting than running in a hamster wheel or ball, a snap of the rodent showed it nodding off as it made the historic ascent.
The cabin, hamster and balloon fell back down to Earth in the sea near Japan's Miyako Island. They were later recovered by scientists.
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K.K. Iwaya Giken confirmed that the hamster returned in good health, and they hope that the success of the first balloon-based launch of a mammal will pave the way for more "space travel" using balloons.
They are now said to be planning a manned test flight up to a 25km altitude. The aim is to allow people to "feel outer space" by viewing the Earth's curvature in all its glory.
"We will continue to carry out experiments so that people can get on board and return safely," a spokesperson said.
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