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  • Canine Astronauts

    May 05, 2022 3 min read

    Canine Astronauts

    With today, May 5th, being National Astronaut Day, I thought it would be fun to talk about canines that have traveled to space. During the early days of both the American and the Russian space program, it was commonplace to send animals up to space to study any effects of zero gravity and radiation before launching up humans. At this time, we knew very little about the effects of the space environment.

    The first canines into space were Tsygan and Dezik on July 22, 1951, onboard an R-1 IIIA-1 rocket (basically a Russian-built version of the V2 German rocket). This flight reached space but was not an orbital flight. They reached an altitude of around 110km, or 68.3 miles, and experienced roughly four minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth. Both dogs were unharmed by this experience.

    Unfortunately, Dezik was killed one week after their first flight during a second flight; this time with another dog named Lisa. During the flight, the capsules parachute failed to deploy. After Dezik’s death, Tsygan was adopted by one of the Russian physicists and lived out the rest of her life as a family pet. She even went on to have two litters of puppies.

    Laika Canine Astronaut

    The most famous canine astronaut was another Russian dog named Laika. Laika was the first animal to orbit the Earth. After the success of Russian Sputnik 1 becoming the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth, Russian decided to quickly follow this up with Sputnik 2, putting the first living animal into orbit. The scientists had less than 4 weeks to design and build the spacecraft for Sputnik 2. Sputnik 2 was launched 32 days after Sputnik 1, but due to the aggressive timeline, designs for recovery were not made. This unfortunately meant Laika was on a one-way flight. The flight went as planned and Laika reached orbit on November 3rd, 1957. It is highly debated on how long Laika lived in orbit, with original Soviet statements saying one week, later documents showed possibly only 3 to 4 orbits, and another released document shows that her heart beat sensor stopped showing a heartbeat sometime before late day 2 and day 3. Laika flight and death caused a large discussion amongst the space agencies, mainly when it came to sending live animals into space.

    The first animals to reach orbit and return alive were Belka and Strelka, aboard a Sputnik 5. This mission was launched on August 19, 1960. Belka and Strelka did 17 orbits around Earth before returning on August 20, 1960. Strelka went on to have six puppies, one of which was given to President John F. Kennedy in 1961. As of 2015, Strelka’s bloodline was still in existence.

    Later that year, on December 1, 1960, Pchyolka and Mushka flew on Sputnik 6. The flight went well, but due to an issue during re-entry, the return capsule had have its self-destruct safety activated. Mushka was one of the backup dogs trained for the Sputnik 2 launch.

    On March 9, 1961, Chernushka, AKA Blackie, made one orbit on board the Korabl-Sputnik 4 (Sputnik 9) mission. On that mission was also a cosmonaut dummy. Chernushka was recovered unharmed inside the capsule. A few weeks later, Zvyozdochka made one orbit on board Korabl-Sputnik 5 on March 25, 1961. On board with Zvyozdochka was a wooden cosmonaut dummy. This flight was the final flight before Gagarin would make his historical flight in April of 1961. Zvezdochka was successfully recovered unharmed after the flight.

    The last canine astronauts, or cosmonauts, we have to talk about are Veterok and Ugolyok, which launched on February 22, 1966. They spent 21 days in orbit before landing on March 16. This set the record for longest spaceflight and return alive. A record that would stand until June 1971, being surpassed by humans aboard the Soyuz 11. The 21 day orbital flight by Veterok and Ugolyok still stands as the longest space flight by dogs.

    I hoped that you enjoyed our little history lesson on canines in space. Thanks for reading!

    -Michael, LCS Director of Marketing

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