Extra-ordinary dogs in Space

Look up at the stars. Will human beings ever reach any of the millions of worlds around us? Will the one foray to the moon ever be duplicated? Will any human ever set foot on Mars?


If we do get to another planet, I hope those explorers will remember that they owe it all to dogs.


The Russians were the first to attempt to go into space.


The first living being sent into orbit was a dog, Laika — a sweet-tempered stray with Siberian Husky blood in her, plucked off the streets of Moscow and put into the Sputnik rocket on 3rd November 1957. The scientists had made no provision for her safe return and she died of overheating and stress before the rocket even reached orbit where it blew up. Can you imagine how much terror she must have felt for the 7 hours she was alive, strapped into a tiny machine. Forty years later, in 1998 Oleg Gazenko, a senior Soviet scientist involved in the project apologized for her suffering.


Between the 50s and 60s, the Soviets sent 57 dogs into space, some more than once. Female strays were chosen as the scientists felt they would be able to tolerate the extreme stresses of space flight better than other dogs As part of their training, they were confined in small boxes for 15–20 days at a time wearing astronaut suits, placed in simulators that acted like a rocket during launch, riding in centrifuges that simulated the high acceleration of a rocket launch and being kept in progressively smaller cages to prepare them for the confines of the space module. Even the thought of all the suffering that must have gone into their training makes my hair stand on end. Many must have died during training – a fact that the Soviets kept concealed since the death of Laika had touched such an emotional cord all over the world. Some died in the rockets due to technical failures. The ones that lived were used again. Their diet consisted of protein jelly, and more than 60% of dogs to enter space suffered from constipation and gallstones by the time their flights were over.


Laika was the first dog to go into orbit. But many dogs have been put into rockets that flew below the orbit. 29 such flights took place between 1951-1958.The first dogs to fly were Dezik and Tsygan in 1951 and they flew upto 110 kilometers. Both survived. Dezik was used again with another dog called Lisa and this time both died.


Many dogs tried to escape. Smelaya ran away a day before she was launched but was caught the next day and sent up along with another dog called Malyshka. Bolik was luckier. She ran away some days before her flight. The scientists simply picked up another untrained dog from the street, named her ZIB ( Russian for replacement for Bolik) and sent her up. She did not die – even though the experience would have been terrifying. Otyzhnaya made 5 flights before she died. Albina and Tsyganka were even ejected out of their capsules and fell down to earth for 85 kilometers. Surprisingly they both came out alive.


Damka and Krasavka were to make the first orbital flight on 22 December 1960. However the rocket they were in, failed. The dogs were to be ejected but the ejection seat failed as well. The animals were still in the capsule when it fell to earth in the deep snow. The team that went to locate it did not open it immediately as they reported that there were no signs of life in it. When they did open it two days later the dogs were miraculously found alive and barking! They were flown to Moscow. Krasavka was adopted by a scientist and died 14 years later after giving birth to several children. The scientists were ordered not to make this incident public in case the public reacted negatively to the use of dogs in rockets.


Baars and Lisichka were not as lucky. Their rocket exploded 28 seconds after take off.


Belka and Strelka spent a day in space aboard Sputnik 5 on 19 August 1960 before safely returning to Earth. They were the first Earth-born creatures to go into orbit and return alive.


Strelka went on to have six puppies with a male dog named Pushok who was also sent for many ground-based space experiments, but never made it into space.[One of the pups was named Pushinka and was given to President John Kennedy's daughter Caroline by the Russian Premier Nikita Krushchev in 1961. The story goes that the CIA suspected the dog of carrying transmitters in her body and asked for her to be killed and dissected. Kennedy refused. Pushinka and a Kennedy dog named Charlie mated and their children were referred to by Kennedy as pupniks. Pushinka's descendants are still living today.


The dogs on the next Sputnik, Pchyolka and Mushka shared their space on the rocket with other animals and plants. The rocket blew up and they all died.


Sputnik 10 was launched on March 25, 1961 with Zvezdochka . It is said the Yuri Gagarin named her. Her one orbit mission was a success and a few weeks later, on April 12, Yuri Gagarin followed the dog he had named into space to become the first human in space.


Veterok and Ugolyok were launched on 22 February 1966 on board Cosmos 110, and spent 22 days in orbit before landing on 16 March. This spaceflight of record-breaking duration was not surpassed by humans until Soyuz 11 in June 1971 and still stands as the longest space flight by dogs.


Laika ,Veterok and Ugolyok have been commemorated on stamps. Belka and Strelka were stuffed and their bodies taken on tour to other countries. But as our generation passes, they will be remembered less and less.


Today, astronauts on space platforms are common. Maybe one day we will reach another planet. Let us not forget the beings who, through their suffering and sacrifices, paved the way.


Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Pl. add: To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

*Proper wildlife rehabilitation is an extremely biologically and ecologically responsible attitude toward all living things.*