Image from the Guardian. Notice Strelka and Belka in the rocket’s windows?
This is a repost of a post from 3 Sept 2014. For those who just needed a reminder, yesterday was the 57th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s second satellite launched into space. This time with a dog named Laika on board. And while the Soviets’ accomplishment of launching the first living being into space shouldn’t be forgottern, there were other dogs involved in the Soviet Space program, all talked about in The Guardian’s posts, linked to from this article.
There were a couple of Soviet space history posts published on The Guardian’s pages on 1 Sept. Both talk about the dogs for the Soviet space program. However, this one talks about the Soviet Union’s odd hero-worship of the dogs that were sent into space through their space program. The post also mentions some of the reasons why dogs were considered a good fit for space testing in the USSR. The program starts, of course, with Laika, who was launched in space in November 1957. It was the second successful space launch of a satellite conducted by the Soviet Union. The United States hadn’t even successfully launched their first satellite into space.
Not only had the Soviets launched a second satellite into space nearly a month after their Sputnik launch, but they launched a satellite with a living being on board. That history-making being was Laika (Russian for “the barker”), the dog. According to the post, the Russians admitted in 2002 that Laika did not survive more than a few hours after launch and suffocated.
But other dogs were also used by the USSR to forge ahead into space again in August 1960. Two of them. Belka (Little Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow), orbited the Earth 18 times in a Vostok-1 spacecraft, then came back to Earth safely. They were treated as heroes and toured the USSR. They apparently lived long lives, and Strelka even had several litters of puppies. In an odd side note, while Nikita Khrushchev was eating dinner with President and Mrs. Kennedy in June 1961, Khrushcheve bragged about Strelka’s litter of “space” puppies. Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy joked about the possibility of Khrushchev sending a puppy to her. Two months later, she received a space puppy from the USSR.
It seems that dogs tend to fare better than the geckos used in Russia’s more recent space experiments. But it wasn’t all doggy heaven–the dogs unknowingly risked their lives during these experiments. The Guardian’s post mentions two other dogs by name: Chaika (Seagull) and Lisichka (Little Fox) were some of the unfortunates who died in the line of duty. The post doesn’t really mention the other six dogs that also had died before Belka and Strelka, but it’s not the point of the post.
The fascinating hero-worship of the Soviet Space Dogs continues to be focused on in another fine Guardian post, too, this time showing the stamps, toys, postcards, and candies. Pictures of their space dogs were posted proudly on all these items. I seem to remember seeing some of these stamps in my earlier days. I thought they were nifty then, and they are definitely fun to peruse now. Please go to the Guardian’s page to enjoy the pictures of the Soviet dogs as they help sell some sugary snack to some Soviet citizen.
These dogs helped with Soviet space programs until 1966. They were pioneers, if not in space, then for manned space programs, taking risks that human astronauts would not. Plus, they’re kind of cute. No wonder the Soviets adored them.