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The Soviet Space Dogs Who Took Giant Leaps for Mankind

The tale of the canine cosmonaut Laika, the first living being to orbit the earth, is a tragic one. But she was not the first dog the Soviets sacrificed in their space program. And the two space dogs that followed Laika not only survived, but became superstars in the USSR (Belka and Strelka are pictured above and illustrated below). Damon Murray edited and published the book Soviet Space Dogs, which tells the story of the Soviet strays who paved the way for humans to enter space. He talked to Collectors Weekly about the space dog program.

Collectors Weekly: Why were dogs chosen over apes or cats?

Murray: Dogs had a history of scientific experimentation in the USSR. Petrovich Pavlov had used them to great effect in his studies of the reflex system. Despite this, apes were initially considered as they more closely resemble man in many ways. Dr. Oleg Gazenko, one of the leading scientists of the space program, even visited the circus to observe the famous monkey handler Capellini, who convinced him that monkeys were, in fact, problematic. They required intense training and numerous vaccines and were emotionally unstable. (Cats did not tolerate flight conditions; that was later proved by French missions in 1963.) The decision was made: Dogs would be the first cosmonauts.

Read the stories of Laika, Belka, Strelka, Dezik, Tsygan, Bobik, ZIB, Otvazhnaya, and other canine cosmonauts of the Soviet Union, in an article at Collectors Weekly.

(Images credit: © FUEL Publishing)


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