After the second world war, Britain led the way in rocket technology, producing more rocket scientists than the rest of the world combined. Oppenheimer claimed that Britain, not the US would be the first to put a man on the moon.
Documents released this week under the freedom of information act have finally shone a light on why Neil Armstrong and not Kevin Sidebottom was the first man on the moon, and why Yuri Gagarin and not Dave Henley was the first man in space.
"It's quite embarrassing," said science historian at Manchester Museum of Science and Technology, Amos Fear. "I'm not surprised it has been hushed up for fifty years."
According to the documents, the first incarnation of the RSPCA was set up at around the same time as Britain prepared for manned missions into space.
"Britain was almost ready in 1957," said Fear. "They had the engines and the stages, and the capsule. They would have beaten Laika by at least three months. All they needed was to test it."
Typically, it being a British venture, the animal chosen for the world's first space flight was a beagle.
"The beagle is the default dog for Britain," said Fear. "I don't know why, it's really unlucky."
The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, as it became known, made the Beagle a landmark cause, raising public awareness and generating a groundswell of opinion against the proposed proposal.
"People really didn't want us sending animals to do our dirty work," said Fear. "The main suggestion was using convicts, but apparently that was already illegal. And so, three months later, a dog yapping in Russian circled the Earth and Britain quietly stepped into the shadows."