During the 1950s and 1960s the USSR used a number of dogs for sub-orbital and orbital space flights to determine whether human spaceflight was feasible. In the 1950s and 60s, the Soviet Union launched missions with passenger slots for at least 57 dogs. The actual number of dogs in space is smaller, as some dogs flew more than once. Most survived; the few that died were lost mostly through technical failures.
Laika (”Barker”), originally named Kudryavka (”Little Curly”), became the first living Earth-born creature (other than microbes) in orbit, aboard Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. Some call her the first living passenger to go into space, but others claim sub-orbital flights passed the edge of space first. She was also known as Zhuchka (”Little Bug”) and Limonchik (”Lemon”). The American media dubbed her “Muttnik”. She died between five and seven hours into the flight from stress and overheating.
Her true cause of death was not made public until October 2002; officials previously gave reports that she died when the oxygen supply ran out. The Russian scientist responsible for the project has since expressed regret for allowing Laika to die.
Belka and Strelka
Belka (”Whitey”) and Strelka (”Arrow”) spent a day in space aboard Korabl-Sputnik-2 (Sputnik 5) on August 19, 1960 before safely returning to Earth. They were accompanied by a grey rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats, flies and a number of plants and fungi. All passengers survived.
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 participated in many ground-based space experiments, but never made it into space. One of the pups was named Pushinka (”Fluffy”) and was presented to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline by Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. A Cold War romance bloomed between Pushinka and a Kennedy dog named Charlie resulting in the birth of 4 pups that JFK referred to jokingly as pupniks. Two of their pups, Butterfly and Streaker were given away to children in the Midwest. The other two puppies, White Tips and Blackie, stayed at the Kennedy home on Squaw Island but were eventually given away to family friends. Pushinka’s descendants are still living today. A photo of descendants of some of the Space Dogs is on display at the Zvezda Museum outside Moscow. An animated Russian feature film called Star Dogs: Belka and Strelka is currently in production and expected to be released in 2009.
Pchelka and Mushka
Pchelka (”Little Bee”) and Mushka (”Little Fly”) spent a day in orbit on December 1, 1960 on board Korabl-Sputnik-3 (Sputnik 6) with “other animals”, plants and insects. Due to a navigation error, their spacecraft disintegrated during re-entry on December 2 and all died. Mushka was one of the three dogs trained for Sputnik 2 and was used during ground tests. She did not fly on Sputnik 2 because she refused to eat properly.
Chernushka (”Blackie”) made one orbit on board Korabl-Sputnik-4 (Sputnik 9) on March 9, 1961 with a cosmonaut dummy (whom Russian officials nicknamed “Ivan Ivanovich”), mice and a guinea pig. The dummy was ejected out of the capsule during re-entry and made a soft landing using a parachute. Chernushka was recovered unharmed inside the capsule.
Zvezdochka (”Little Star”), who was named by Yuri Gagarin, made one orbit on board Sputnik 10 on March 25, 1961 with a wooden cosmonaut dummy in the final practice flight before Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12. Again, the dummy was ejected out of the capsule while Zvezdochka remained inside. Both were recovered successfully.
Veterok and Ugolyok
Veterok (”Little Wind/Breeze”) and Ugolyok (”Little Piece of Coal”) were launched on February 22, 1966 on board Cosmos 110, and spent 22 days in orbit before landing on March 16. This spaceflight of record-breaking duration was not surpassed by humans until Skylab 2 in June 1973 and still stands as the longest space flight by dogs.