Russia celebrates 50th anniversary of dogs’ space flight

Posted By elaine on August 19, 2010

Belka and Strelka before their flight into space 50 years ago

Russia is marking the 50th anniversary of the space flight of two mongrel dogs — Belka and Strelka — who became the first living creatures to circle the Earth and come back alive.

Laika in her flight capsule

The August 1960 mission helped test the equipment which was used to carry the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961.

Belka and Strelka were part of a Soviet program of animal tests intended to pave the way for human space flight.

Laika in her space harness

They followed Laika, a dog that flew into space on Nov. 3, 1957.

Sadly,  Laika was meant from the start to be sacrificed in the name of Science, because Sputnik 2 was never meant return to Earth.   It is believed that little Laika died several hours into the flight when equipment malfunctions caused temperatures to get to 104 degrees.

The space dogs were all found as strays on the streets of Moscow.  Scientists thought strays would be the best for flights because they had already learned to endure conditions of extreme cold and hunger, and that would make it easier to adjust to conditions in space.

Belka and Strelka after their successful flight

It was not until 1998, after the collapse of the Soviet regime, that Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists responsible for sending Laika into space, expressed regret for allowing her to die.

The successful flight of Belka and Strelka had showcased the Soviet lead in space exploration and turned the dogs into global celebrities. Russian television stations topped their newscasts Thursday with anniversary reports.

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