20 August 2010

Belka and Strelka– 50 Years Since Space Dogs Circled the Earth

They were the the forerunners of their kind – the first living creatures to circle the earth in a space craft and make it back down to earth.  August 19, 1960 was the date that this pair went up dogs (most likely confused and bewildered ones) and came back as national cosmonaut heroes of the former USSR.

Amazing to think that only fifty years ago no one had boldly gone and now we have the International Space Station (even though many believe we could have done better).

Belka and Strelka, unlike their human cosmonaut counterparts, had little choice in the matter but this particular dirty job that had to be done and it paved the way for Yuri Gagarin to make the first manned spaceflight.

Scientists believed that dogs were the best animal for the mission as they were suited to long periods of inactivity (mmm). 

The training sounds more than a little harsh – they were kept in small boxes for up to twenty days at a time to assess their suitability.

Stray dogs, such as Belka and Strelka were rounded up and sent to the labs.  Used to a hard life already the scientists believed that they would cope with the stress of being launched out of the atmosphere than more pampered pooches.  The pair were both female – another deliberate choice.  First, temperament but more importantly the suit designed for the dogs was designed only for females and the closer proximity of the orifices that expelled their waste products.

Training was hard, too, with practice wearing space suits, spinning in centrifuges and being fed nothing but a protein filled jelly (which gave them constipation and gallstones).   Belka (Whitey in Russian_ and Strelka (Arrow) were above the earth for a day on board Sputnik 5.

Let’s not forget the grey rabbit, the 42 mice, 2 rats and the flies that went up with them, all of which survived the mission too.  Of course, Belka and Strelka had the most publicity, having a much greater cute quotient than the other creatures – and the Soviet authorities wasted no time showing the pair off to the world.

Strelka had puppies some time later and one of them, Pushinka (Fluffy, left) was given to Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter.

That was in 1961 when the Cold War was at its height but it didn’t stop another Kennedy dog and Fluffy doing it like they do it on Discovery Channel.

The result of this union was four more puppies – in fact the descendents of Belka and Charlie’s pupniks are barking and burping their way around the US to this day.

Poor old Strelka ended up being stuffed an put on display in various museums around the world.

Of course this being Kuriositas we couldn’t resist showing you a trailer from the new Russian animation, Belka and Strelka – Star Dogs.

It hasn’t been released in English yet, so the narration is in Russian but, hey, it’s an animation – you will get the drift.