Inspire Your Dog Dogs In Space Explorers Russia USSR Cosmonauts Laika Damka Kravaska Belka Strelka Veterok Ugolyok

Dogs In Space

sputnik2-01aMan has often gazed at the stars, and dreamt of flying into space. The imagination of Science Fiction writers from HG Wells to Isaac Asimov were full of stories where man had taken their first steps into space travel. Little did they know that it wasn’t man that would first touch the stars, but man’s best friend.

During the 1950’s and 60’s, the USA and Russia were engaged in ‘The Space Race’. Both sides were determined to become the first the conquer space. During their early attempts at space exploration, the Russian premier, President Nikita Khrushchev was delighted with the positive reaction he and the USSR gained by their space exploration. Seizing an opportunity to outdo their American rivals, the Russians decided to take the race one step further and be the first nation to send a living creature into space.

The Russians decided that dogs were the best creature to travel into space, rather than the chimpanzees or monkeys chosen for the the American space programme. There were many early tests of sub orbital flights where dogs were used, and safely returned to earth. Special space suits were designed, and the dogs were trained to be able to stand still in confined spaces for long periods of time.

In this section, you'll learn more about some of the most significant missions that paved the way for human exploration of space.

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Inspire Your Dog Dogs In Space Explorers Russia USSR Cosmonauts Laika Damka Kravaska Belka Strelka Veterok Ugolyok

Laika

laika01The first creature from Earth in space was Laika. Her trip was always planned by the Russian scientists as a one-way ticket - there was no return contingency. It is believed that in the atmosphere of wanting to beat the Americans to putting an animal in space as quickly as possible, Laika’s mission was rushed, with no though to bring Laika back to Earth.

The Russians had presented Laika as a national hero, parading her in front of the Russian people, and really treating Laika as a celebrity before her trip to become the first animal to orbit the Earth. However, when it was revealed that there she died in orbit and there was no plan to bring her home, their PR stunt backfired. There was widespread condemnation throughout the world. They had created a heroine in Laika, and then allowed her to die, all in the space of a couple of weeks. Whilst the USSR and the Russian President would usually ignore negative reactions, the strength of feeling for Laika was much more than they ever anticipated.

 

Such was the sensitivity of the issue, it was only in 2002, that the true nature of Laika’s death was officially revealed. Until then, the Russians maintained that Laika died in space due to her Oxygen running out. The real reason was that Laika had died only a few hours after takeoff due to stress and heat exhaustion. A sad end for a very brave dog.

Due to the backlash of public opinion, Laika became the only dog sent into space by the Russians where they did not have a plan for bringing them back home. In her own way, Laika ensured the safe return of other canine cosmonauts. Sadly, whilst other dogs did die as a consequence of the Russian Space Program, those fatalities were as a result of unforeseen technical problems. In the atmosphere of the space race, such accidents claimed the lives of many human cosmonauts and astronauts too.

 

At a Moscow press conference in 1998 Oleg Gazenko, a senior Soviet scientist involved in the project, later came to regret his role in Laika’s death and stated "The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

 

Fortunately, the sad end of Laika’s story was not repeated by all canine space explorers. The vast majority of those used by the Russians thankfully returned to Earth safely.

Inspire Your Dog Dogs In Space Explorers Russia USSR Cosmonauts Laika Damka Kravaska Belka Strelka Veterok Ugolyok

Damka and Krasavka

damkakrasavka01Damka and Krasavka proved to be very hardy dogs when they were planned to make an orbital flight on 22 December 1960 as a part of the Vostok programme. Like other early space exploration, their mission was dogged by a catalogue of technical problems and failures.

After takeoff, the upper stage rocket failed, and it started to plunge back to Earth. Protocols put in place for such an eventuality failed; the ejection system (meant to eject the dogs in a capsule and then parachute back to Earth) failed, and so did the self-destruct system which was supposed to be initialised after ejection.

The craft had a secondary back up self-destruct, set for 60 hours after the return of the craft to Earth. With this window of opportunity, a rescue team was quickly dispatched to try and rescue the capsule’s inhabitants. No doubt aware of the public feeling over the canine cosmonauts, they were keen to act swiftly. As a consequence, the capsule was discovered quite quickly, but the failing light and minus 45 degree temperatures hampered their efforts to disarm the self-destruct mechanism.

The combination of the heavy impact and viciously cold temperatures left the rescue team believing that there was no hope of recovering the dogs alive from the capsule. The heavy snow and frost on the windows made it impossible for the team to tell if any creatures had survived, and so could only report that no signs of life were apparent.

On the second day, the team worked feverishly to disarm the self-destruct and open the capsule. Upon opening the capsule, barking was heard, and both dogs were recovered. They were wrapped in blankets and furs and flown back to Moscow immediately. They were cold and shaken from their ordeal, but apparently recovered fairly quickly, given their ordeal.

In fact, Oleg Gazenko (the senior scientist who regretted the death of Laika), adopted Krasavka and she was well enough to mother a litter of puppies during her lifetime. Krasavka lived for another 14 years, until her death, with the Gazenko family. As with much of Soviet-era information, there are as yet, no references to where Damka was rehomed.

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Inspire Your Dog Dogs In Space Explorers Russia USSR Cosmonauts Laika Damka Kravaska Belka Strelka Veterok Ugolyok

Belka and Strelka

belka.strelka01Some of the Soviet Space Dogs even managed to form a bridge of sorts between the USA and Russia, at a time of very high tensions. Belka and Strelka were Space day-trippers, spending a 24 hours in space aboard Korabl-Sputnik in 1960 before safely returning to Earth.

At the Russian research facility, a dog named Pushok was involved in many earthbound experiments, but did not travel into space himself. The space suits for the dogs were designed exclusively for females, so he was never going to go into orbit himself. However, Pushok certainly discovered some perks of being one of the few males in the program, and used the opportunity to romance Strelka. He and Strelka produced six puppies.

The Russian President, Nikita Khrushchev presented one of these puppies, named “Pushinka” to Caroline Kennedy - the daughter of the US President, John F. Kennedy. It is said that she was allowed to live at the White House - but only after being checked for Spy equipment first! After first having a thorough examination (no doubt a CIA operation!) Pushinka did not have any interest in maintaining the Cold War between Russia and America, and forged her own bond by partaking in a US-Soviet joint project - having four puppies fathered by one of the Kennedy’s dogs - Charlie.

It is said that JFK himself referred to the offspring jokingly as “pupniks”. Pushinka's legacy still exists to this day, her descendants are alive and well. The Zvezda Museum outside Moscow pays tribute to her by displaying a photo of some of her descendants in the exhibit.

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Inspire Your Dog Dogs In Space Explorers Russia USSR Cosmonauts Laika Damka Kravaska Belka Strelka Veterok Ugolyok

Veterok and Ugolyok

VeterokandUgolyok01

As the Russians pushed the boundaries more and more, space exploring dogs continued to break records. Veterok and Ugolyok spent a record-breaking 22 consecutive days in orbit, before landing back safely on Earth on the 16th of March 1966. It took another five years until the Soyuz 11 mission in 1971 for humans to surpass this feat.

Laika >

Belka & Strelka >

Damka & Krasavka >

Veterok and Ugolyok >