Miss Baker was a squirrel monkey that Russia launched into space in 1959, and through using a parachute, the small space probe was able to return to earth so Miss Baker survived.
During these years, Russia followed by the U.S., were sending animals (i.e. dogs, mice, monkeys, etc.), into space; they were seeing how much force these animals could take upon launch among other things, to see if a human could survive space travel.
Thanks to these little heroes, our astronauts were put in the best positions for safe travel. By the way, it was Russia's Yuri Gagarin in 1961, to be the first human in space. Russia was blowing everyone away with their space program and this is why President J.F.K. wanted to show that we could do better and set the audacious goal of travelling to the moon.
As it stands now, the U.S. has the most effective space program followed by Russia, China, and France. But China is the country to worry about as they have been climbing the charts fast especially with military satellite programs/weapons. This is why Trump is pushing for a space force which would logically fall under the Air Force's umbrella.
Could you imagine what would happen if China knocked out all of our communication satellites? We'd be in horrific shape. Not only would we feel the impact in our own homes, it would grind many businesses and our military. to a halt. I think we need to get aggressive now with our military capabilities in space before we lose our superpower status which has kept all of us safe in a variety of ways.