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Soviet Space Dogs

It began with Soviet cigarettes. I was looking at pictures of Soviet cigarette packs and I happen to sit next to someone at work who has firsthand knowledge of Soviet cigarettes. Apparently every Soviet city had its own cigarette factory. Lucky citizens of some Soviet city got to smoke Laikas:

When I mentioned that the thought of Laika, who died all alone in an overheated spacecraft, always made me sad, my coworker asked if I knew about Belka and Strelka, a pair of dogs who went up together and survived the flight.

There was more than one space dog? This was news to me. Then we googled "Soviet space dogs" and found my new favorite wikipedia entry.

There are almost too many great details worth pointing out here, but these are my favorites:

Laika-gate: Laika died from stress and overheating several hours into her flight, but the official story was that she died only when the oxygen supply ran out. Not until 2002 did officials admit the true cause of death. The collapse of the Soviet Union might have come decades earlier had the truth been known.

Smelaya, whose name means "brave" or "courageous," was scheduled for a sub-orbital flight in September of 1960 but ran away the day before launch. Knowing the fate of other space dogs, maybe the true bravery is the running away part, a refusal to meet her fate. She did, however, go on to make a successful flight later.

Bolik was another dog who made a break for it just days before her flight. One dog's desperate bid for freedom is another dog's lucky break. ZIB, a stray dog running around the barracks, was quickly recruited and trained to take Bolik's place. ZIB completed his mission successfully.

Damka and Krasavka: these two have Disney movie written all over them. If they were American dogs, they would have had at least three movies and two tv series by now. Their mission was an orbital flight, but something malfunctioned and the rocket crashed. And then the ejector seat failed. The capsule landed intact but Mission Control had 60 hours to find them before the capsule self-destructed. They found the capsule on the first day, buried in deep snow and frosted over with ice in -45 degree temperatures. Daylight was fading and they could hear no signs of life from the capsule. Searchers returned the next day and, miracle of miracles, heard barking as they opened the capsule. Damka and Krasavka were freed, wrapped in sheepskin coats, and flown to Moscow immediately.

It's the sheepskin coats that make it such a great story.

Belka and Strelka: these are the famous star dogs who made the first successful orbital flight by living creatures. Also on the flight, but uncredited with star dog status, were a grey rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats, some flies, and various plants and fungi. "Star mice" just does not have the same ring as "star dogs."

Strelka's story is an interesting take on the dilemma of successful women when it comes to balancing work and family. Or rather, you can read that into it without trying too hard. She had several pups with a dog named Pushka, a fellow space program dog who participated in many training runs on the ground but never made it into space himself. Can you imagine the strain on the relationship? To be married to one of the most famous space dogs in the world and never make into space yourself?

Even Pushka's pups were more famous than he was. Their daughter, Pushinka, gained international fame when Khruschev gave her as a present to President John F. Kennedy's daughter. Pushinka had a love affair with a Kennedy dog named Charlie.

Charlie and Pushinka (she's the fluffier one) on the White House Lawn.

JFK called the fruits of their union--four puppies--pupniks, and the descendants of these pupniks are East Coast aristocracy to this day.

Pupniks socializing with Jackie and Johnno.

And let's not forget Mushka, a dog removed from her flight crew because she refused to eat properly. Note to self: if forced to go on space mission against your will, go on a hunger strike.


Apr. 8th, 2009 02:01 pm (UTC)
The last is the best))