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History of dogs in space

  • History of dogs in space

    On Oct. 1, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—commonly known as NASA—opened its doors for business. The inauguration came months after U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act which would eventually launch humans into space. Before the first person entered orbit, however, there was a line of four-legged explorers to precede them.

    While the U.S. primarily used monkeys and primates to test the viability of space travel, the USSR—in the middle of its own ambitious space program—used a group of dogs who became known as “dogmonauts.” The dogs were stray pups who were rounded up on the streets of Moscow and put through intensive training to prepare them for launch. At the time, the Soviets theorized that since the dogs were already accustomed to hunger and cold, they’d be better equipped to handle the stresses of the program.

    Between 1951 and 1966, at least four dozen dogs of varying sizes and breeds were enlisted in the Soviet space program. Some of them were sent into orbit while others carried out suborbital missions. Many died in the process, becoming heroes of Soviet pop culture and folklore. They appeared on postcards, stamps, tins, and even cigarette packs. In 2014, a research fellow at The State Russian Museum named Olesya Turkina put together a picture book honoring the dogs. Critics hailed the book as a “gorgeous work of art, containing adorable image after adorable image of the strays recruited against their will to pave the way for the first man in space.”

    Stacker was inspired by these images and Duncan Geere's Soviet Space Dogs, a database sourced from Turkina's book “Soviet Space Dogs” (with data pulled in 2019). In honor of the courageous dogs and the 61st birthday of NASA, Stacker created a timeline of canine missions, all based on Geere's website. Although not all the missions were included, the main players are all pictured and represented. Take a look to learn more about canine heroes of the Soviet space program.

    You may also like: Space discoveries from the year you were born

  • July 22, 1951: Dezik and Tsygan

    The first-ever canine space mission involved two dogs named Dezik and Tsygan, both of whom successfully made a suborbital flight on July 22, 1951. The dogs ascended to an altitude of 68 miles (about 110 kilometers). Russian Life dubbed the heroic canines the “world’s first dogmonauts,” and Tsygan was adopted soon after as a pet by Soviet physicist Anatoli Blagonravov.

    [Pictured: Ugolyok and Veterok]

  • July 29, 1951: Dezik and Lisa

    Following Dezik and Tsygan’s successful (if suborbital) flight, Dezik was sent up again a week later, this time with a new travel companion named Lisa. This flight, on July 29, 1951, was similar to the previous excursion; however, this time, a parachute failed, and both dogs died. 

    [Pictured: Ugolyok and Veterok]

  • August 15, 1951: Chizhik and Mishka

    A few weeks later, on Aug. 15, 1951, it was time for a fresh start. Two new pups named Chizhik and Mishka went on a mission in the R-1B, a short-range ballistic launch vehicle. Both dogs were recovered safely, but they were sent up again two weeks later and perished on that mission.

  • August 19, 1951: Ryzhik and Smeliy

    Between Chizhik and Mishka’s first launch and their doomed Aug. 28 flight, two other dogs named Ryzhik (aka “red-haired” or “ginger”) and Smeliy completed a successful mission. In this happy case, both canine cosmonauts made it back home in one piece. 

  • September 3, 1951: Neputeviy and ZIB

    Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, Neputeviy and ZIB were two more dogs who made a joint trip in the R-1B, traveling to an elevation of 62 miles (100 kilometers). ZIB was an untrained street dog scientists found running in the barracks. He was tasked with the mission after another dog named Bobik ran away a few days before. In fact, ZIB is a Russian acronym meaning “Substitute for Missing Bobik.” Like Chizhik and Mishka, both pups were safely recovered from their pod. 

  • July 2, 1954: Damka and Mishka-2

    After nearly a three-year pause, the Soviets again launched dogs into space on July 2, 1954. This time it was two new pups making the journey called Damka and Mishka 2, the latter of whom was named after his early predecessor. Sadly, Mishka 2 suffered the same fate and perished because of the voyage. 

  • July 7, 1954: Damka and Ryzhik-2

    The following week, Damka again set off into space via the R-1D, a ballistic vehicle designed to study the effects of spaceflight on the animals. Damka was joined by Ryzhik-2, another dog named after a predecessor. However, like Mishka-2, Ryzhik-2 also ended up perishing. Damka, on the other hand, was safely recovered once more.

    [Pictured: similar space module]

  • July 26, 1954: Lisa-2 and Ryzhik-3

    On July 26, 1954, two more dogs bearing the names of doggy cosmonauts who preceded them took to the air. Lisa-2 (the second of the “fox” or “vixen” dogs) and Ryzhik-3 (the third in his line) made the sub-orbital journey out and back safely.

    [Pictured: Ugolyok and Veterok] 

  • January 25, 1955: Rita and Linda

    Six months later, two new furry faces joined the team. This time it was Linda and Rita in the R-1E, a launch vehicle that, besides studying animal spaceflight, was also designed for researching air composition, solar radiation, and ozone layer characteristics. Linda made it safely out of her pod, but Rita died because of the suborbital journey. 

    [Pictured: similar launch vehicle]

  • February 5, 1955: Lisa-2 and Bulba

    At this point, Lisa-2 was a seasoned dogmonaut. However, her Feb. 5, 1955 journey was to be her last. Joined by a recruit called Bulba in the R-1E, Lisa-2 and her companion made the launch successfully but recovery failed, and both dogs died.