Recalling Canine Cosmonauts
A 1958 postcard with a portrait of Laika by the artist E. Gundobin, with the first three Sputniks in the background. Text reads ‘International Geophysical Year 1957–1958’. (Photo: © FUEL Publishing)
On November 3, 1957, a dog named Laika was launched into space on the Sputnik 2, as part of the Soviet space program. She had not always been known as Laika; the scientists that found her on the street had given her the name. During the 1950s and 1960s, the USSR used stray dogs like Laika to determine whether human space flight would eventually be possible. Strays were used on the assumption that, if they could endure the hunger and frigid conditions that came with living on the streets of Moscow, there was a higher possibility of them surviving in space.
Unfortunately for Laika, while she was the first animal to orbit the earth, she did not survive the journey. Within hours of liftoff, she died from overheating. At the time, her death was seen as a noble sacrifice to the USSR. However, the true circumstances of her demise remained classified until 2002, and it was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that one of the scientists involved spoke of his regret over her treatment.
Between 1957 and 1966, nine dogs made orbital flights in the name of advancing the Soviet space program, and more still made sub-orbital flights in the mid-1950s. Across the USSR, these remarkable dogs were immortalized in posters, candy wrappers, cigarette packs, stamps and postcards. Fuel Publishing has brought together these unique portraits in the book, Soviet Space Dogs.