Cosmonaut is an incredibly fascinating, astonishing, and mesmerizing profession, yet at the same time, it is also extremely challenging. Who among us doesn’t dream of seeing the mysterious expanse of space with their own eyes? But as it turns out, not only humans can venture into space. Belka and Strelka are the first dogs that journeyed into space. Below, you will find the story of the flight of these canine cosmonauts.
Belka and Strelka were the canine cosmonauts who became the first animals to journey into space. On August 19, 1960, they embarked on a spaceflight aboard the «Sputnik-5» spacecraft. The duration of their flight exceeded 25 hours. During this time, the spacecraft orbited the Earth 17 times and covered a distance of 700,000 kilometers. Belka and Strelka were the first animals to complete a spaceflight and safely return to Earth.
The main objective of Belka and Strelka’s spaceflight was to study the effects of spaceflight factors on living organisms. This experiment provided valuable insights into how the living body reacts to factors like gravitational forces, prolonged weightlessness, and space radiation. Additionally, it yielded information about life support systems and flight safety. This mission facilitated significant scientific research into the space environment.
The preparation of dogs for spaceflight began as early as 1957. A total of 12 dogs were selected for the program. The selection process followed specific criteria: only female dogs weighing no more than 6 kg, measuring up to 35 cm in height, and aged between 2 and 6 years were considered. One of the conditions for selection was the dogs’ appearance. They needed to have a light-colored coat to be more visible and look attractive for media presentations.
The preparation for the spaceflight involved the dogs spending time in small cabin-like enclosures where they experienced increased noise levels and prolonged isolation. Gradually, the dogs adapted to receiving food from automated feeders, wearing clothing, and carrying sensors. The most challenging part was training the animals to tolerate confinement in small enclosed spaces. Although the actual spaceflight was intended to last only a day, the dogs were conditioned for space missions lasting up to 8 days.
Two mixed-breed female dogs demonstrated the best adaptability after the training sessions. Belka, a white-coated female, was the leader of the team, the most active and sociable. Strelka was slightly more timid but friendly, with a light coat and brown spots. Both dogs were around 2.5 years old at the time of their spaceflight.
The final stage of preparing Belka and Strelka for their spaceflight involved creating conditions that closely resembled an actual mission. The dogs were placed in a sealed cabin and outfitted with special clothing equipped with sensors and devices. They successfully underwent tests on a vibration table and centrifuge. Continuous observation was conducted on the animals, and all changes that occurred were recorded in a special journal.
The dogs and other biological subjects were placed within a container that was one of the prototypes developed for future human spaceflights. The container included a cabin with all the necessary life support systems, as well as cameras, radio transmitters, microphones, and other devices. Additionally, inside the cabin, there were compartments for other biological specimens. Apart from the dogs, the spacecraft carried various seeds, plants, insects, certain types of microorganisms, fungal cultures, laboratory mice, and rats.
On August 19, 1960, at 11:44 AM, a successful launch of the spacecraft took place from Baikonur Cosmodrome’s Launch Pad No. 1. The cabin with the dogs was placed into the spacecraft a few hours before the launch. During the ascent, the animals exhibited increased breathing and heart rate, but they calmed down after reaching orbit. Close monitoring of Belka and Strelka’s condition and behavior was maintained throughout the entire flight. In space, both dogs felt normal. On August 20, 1960, at 1:32 PM, the command for the spacecraft’s reentry was issued.
The flight program was successfully executed in its entirety. The flight experiment of Belka and Strelka in space made an invaluable contribution to the study and exploration of outer space. The conducted research provided essential insights for future human spaceflights. Scientists were able to gather crucial scientific data about the effects of space travel on living organisms.
After their space mission, Belka and Strelka lived their further lives at the State Research Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine. Their taxidermied bodies are currently on display at the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics. Both dogs lived long lives, and Strelka even gave birth to 6 healthy puppies.
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