Space Dogs were the first living creatures to travel in space. One month after the historic launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Union space program launched Sputnik 2 with the first living creature to travel in space, a dog named Laika.
Space Dogs…Belta and Strelka
The first living creatures to travel in space were the dogs of the Soviet Unions space program. Beginning in 1951 dogs flew aboard sub-orbital flights to altitudes of 63 miles and higher. They helped to test the equipment that would later be used by humans. The first pair of dogs to fly, on July 22, 1951, were named Tsygan and Dezik. Over the next six years approximately 22 dogs flew on suborbital flights.
Space dogs would make history on November 3, 1957. On this date, just one month after the historic launch of the worlds first artificial satellite, Sputnik, the Soviet Union shocked the world again by launching Sputnik 2. This satellite contained the first living creature to travel in space, a dog named Laika. It was a stunning accomplishment that would not be duplicated by the U.S. for four more years.
Although the Soviet Union did not acknowledge it at the time, they had not yet developed a way to return a satellite from orbit. Laika was to have orbited for a week or more until her food and oxygen ran out. In fact, Laika lasted only hours in orbit before over heating in her capsule took her life.
Three more years would pass with more sub-orbital flights. Larger rockets, like the R5-A, took some of these flights to altitudes of 280 miles to perfect a recovery system that could return cosmonauts from orbit.
That next step, of recovery from orbit, occurred in August 1960, when the dogs Belka and Strelka made 18 orbits of earth and returned alive. Like Laika before them, they became instant celebrities, featured in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Six more orbital dog flights over the next eight months further tested the equipment necessary for humans for follow in the dogs footsteps. That historic event happened on April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel in space.
The role of the space dogs had proven vital in advancing the exploration of space. But, they would make one final flight. In 1966, travelling aboard the Cosmos 110 satellite, the dogs Ugolek and Veterok spent 22 days in orbit. Once again dogs led the way. Humans would not achieve a space flight that long for eight more years, in Skylab 2.
Did you know?
* The first monkey astronaut was Albert, a rhesus monkey, who on June 11, 1948 rode to over 63 km (39 miles) on a V2 rocket.
* Ham the Chimp was the first chimpanzee launched into outer space. Ham’s name is an acronym for the lab that prepared him for his historic mission, the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, located at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, U.S.A.
* Other animals in space include: tortoise, rat.
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Space Dogs: Pioneers of Space Travel by Chris Dubbs
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Dogs in Space by Nancy Coffelt: Kids Space Book
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