This past weekend, the spherical re-entry capsule from the Russian spacecraft Bion-M landed. Inside was a menagerie of mice, lizards, and fish. And while the fact that this was the longest animal-only mission ever, what's really incredible is that their spaceship is a direct descendent of the first ever manned spacecraft.
The spacecraft the animals rode in — I don't think any of the rats were trained to pilot the vehicle, at least not yet — is a fascinating artifact, an updated version of the first-ever manned spaceship, Vostok. In some ways, the Bion series of spacecraft is like a Hindustan Ambassador, or the old VW Microbus built in Brazil. An archaic design, improbably still in use today.