The USSR Space Dogs
Before the internet, before mobile phones were even invented and even before the television was found in every homes, no one really knows what was out there in space other than the existence of other planets, stars, the sun and the moon.
So during the 1950s and the 1960s, while other countries used chimps, monkeys and even fruit flies, the Soviet Union used dogs for their experiments in order to determine the feasibility of launching a living being into space and bringing them back unharmed.
So why were dogs used for this experiment? Dogs were preferred by the Soviet Union over other animals for the experiments because it was believed that dogs were more well suited to endure long periods of inactivity.
Their crazy training consists of the dogs being confined in small boxes for 15-20 days at a time, standing for long periods of time, wearing space suits to get them accustomed to them and were placed in simulators that simulated the situation during rocket launching.
They are also progressively kept in smaller cages to prepare them for the small space modules.
Stray dogs are the most preferred ones because they are more tolerable with extreme stress of space flights compared to house dogs that are usually pampered.
The dogs for the experiments had to be female as well because of how the dog space suits were designed and because of their better temperament compared to male dogs. The suits were designed and equipped with a special device to collect urine and feces that only works with female dogs.
During the whole program, they found out that around 60% of the dogs that entered space were suffering from constipation and gallstones upon arrival back to base.
This was probably caused by stress or space itself thus they improved their diet which consisted of nutritious jelly-like protein and high in fiber food to ensure the dogs have healthy body during the long periods of time they were in their small space module.
Apparently, during the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union had slots for at least 57 dogs, but some of the dogs actually flew more than once, that means less than 57 dogs actually participated in the program.
So as most experiments with animals, some lived to have families while some died during the experiment which could also be applied to the earlier human astronauts during those experimental years. May they all rest in peace.
So here are stories of some of the popular Soviet Union dogs.
The first two dogs I will be talking about are Dezik (Дезик) and Tsygan (Цыган, “Gypsy”).
They were the first dogs to make a sub-orbital flight on the 22nd July 1951. They managed to travel a maximum altitude of 110 km which is about about 68 miles from the surface of the earth which is called the Karman line where scientists say is where the Earth’s atmosphere meets outer space.
Dezik made another sub-orbital flight in September 1951 with a different dog called Lisa as the partner. Neither of them survived the flight this time and that’s when Tsygan retired and was adopted as a pet by one of the Soviet physicist Anatoli Blagonravov.
Then there’s Smelaya (Смелая) which means either “Brave” or “Courageous”. She did something that is quite the opposite of her name and most probably that is the reason why she is still remembered. I mean its not her fault being called courageous, she didn’t chose the name nor her situation.
So a day before her flight in September, She ran away.
But I guess she didn’t make it far because they managed to find her and still managed to send her to space with her partner for the mission called Malyshka (Малышка, “Babe”). Now did she survived the flight? It is unknown.
Finally there is Laika (Лайка, “Barker”) who became the first living Earth-born creature (other than microbes) to be in orbit aboard a satellite also the first to be in orbit, called the Sputnik 2 on the 3rd November 1957 .
The american media dubbed her as “Muttnik” because it sounds Russian just like the satellite and well she is technically a mutt. But, people aren’t that asily offended at the time compared to our generation.
Her mission was intended to last 10 days but sadly she didn’t make it. They said that she died peacefully but that was not the truth.
Only by October of 2002 was the truth finally told.
The flight was meant to test the safety of space travel for humans, but it was actually a guaranteed suicide mission for the dog, because the technology of the time had not advanced far enough for a return trip and thus they knew something will go wrong somewhere along the mission.
After some time, mission control indicated that Laika did calmed down and was trying to survive as she managed to start eating but she still died between five and seven hours into the flight because of stress and overheating in the capsule.
The overheating was because of an exterior damage that was caused during the launch phase and caused the temperature inside the capsule to rise around 40 °C (104 °F).
The saddest part of her story is that Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the Earth for another 5 months and later burned up when it reentered the atmosphere in April 1958. Burning along Laika’s body.