Geographically, the two authors who worked on this collaborative effort live half a world apart. Although each had been involved in separate projects involving animal space flights, their paths had never crossed prior to December 2004, when a simple request for information brought them together. Within the space of a few days a collaborative book had been discussed and a proposal sent to Clive Horwood of Praxis.
The proposed book's timing was felt to be perfect by the authors, who both wanted a 2007 release to coincide with the 50th year anniversary of space dog Laika's flight into orbit and the history books. Soon after the proposal was accepted, the authors were quickly thrust into the joys (and tribulations) of research and writing, continually fired and inspired by unearthing little-known or obscure gems of information, in an unflagging spirit of cooperative endeavour and shared discovery.
It is quite astonishing to realise that the 50th anniversary of the flight into space of a small Russian street dog named Laika is almost upon us. I was 10 years old when Laika's handlers patiently strapped her inside a technological marvel known as Sputnik 2, ready to be hoisted into orbit on a planned one-way journey that would end in universal sadness and condemnation, but forever immortalise her name.
Admittedly the "space bug'' had not bitten me at the time - that would occur more than 4 years later with the dramatic orbital flight of astronaut John Glenn - but I did know about Laika. One November night in 1957 our rowdy cub pack had been herded out of the scout hall at a certain time and made to stand under a crystal clear night sky while our cubmaster patiently told us about Laika and Sputnik 2. Suddenly he pointed with excitement above the darkened horizon, and we quickly fell into an awed silence as we watched a small, bright pin-prick of light silently and majestically traverse the star-spangled firmament over the east coast of Australia.
In time, a boyhood fascination with astronauts and space travel became a deep and enduring interest, and while the incredible suspense ofthe Space Race to the moon was characterised for me by the heroic exploits of American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts, I also knew, basically, the stories of animalnauts such as Laika, Belka and Strelka, Ham and Enos. They had also been living pioneers of space flight, albeit reluctantly, and they deserved their place in history.
In 1994, at the urging of Australian-born oceanographer and payload specialist astronaut Dr. Paul Scully-Power, I became a volunteer space historian with the newly-formed Australian International Space School (AISS). This remarkable school had been set up to encourage the best science students from all over Australia to look at space science as a career option during a fully-funded, week-long seminar in Sydney.
One of my principal undertakings was to produce the AISS newsletter, and this also led me to write a book specifically for the school on the life and 1984 space flight of Dr. Scully-Power. After this had been published I began work on two other books for the AISS, also aimed at older school students. One was on the life of teacher Christa McAuliffe, who died aboard space shuttle Challenger in January 1986. I was given immeasurable help in researching this by Christa's petite but amazingly tireless mother, Grace Corrigan, who kindly hosted my wife Pat and me in her Massachusetts home for several days.
Twenty years after shuttle Challenger and her crew of seven astronauts were lost in a launch ascent tragedy, Grace is still incredibly active. Even today she regularly travels across America, giving inspirational talks in schools and other educational institutions, helping to create and fund new Challenger Learning Centres in the name of her daughter Christa and the last crew of shuttle Challenger.
Sadly, the AISS began to wind down around this time due to increasing financial and sponsorship difficulties, but through Grace Corrigan's eager support and encouragement the book on her daughter's life was eventually published in the United States, and I pledged every cent of the proceeds to the Challenger Education Fund.
The other book never really wanted to go past manuscript form. Initially it was called "Little Laika: First into Space'' and then "Animalnauts: A History of the Pioneering Creatures Who Paved the Way into Space.'' However, it was never published, with enquiries to publishers producing responses stating, amongst other things, that the deaths of so many animals involved in spaceflight history was probably not a suitable topic for younger readers. The manuscript did, however, provide the basis for two articles written for the British Interplanetary Society's Spaceflight magazine - namely, "America's First Astro-Chimps'' (July 1996; co-authored with Canadian friend Simon Vaughan) and "Dogs Who Rode Rockets'' (December 1996).
In December 2004, a plea for assistance caught my eye in the highly-regarded "collectSPACE" online forum (www.collectspace.com). It was written by a Pennsylvania-based enthusiast named Chris Dubbs, who was desperately seeking any further photographs of Russian space dogs for an exhibition he was mounting in New Mexico. I already knew of Chris through my copy of his wonderful children's non-fiction book "Space Dogs,'' and I was keen to help. In researching my own book on Laika and other space animals I'd accumulated a number of obscure photographs relating to the Russian space dogs, so I sent scans of these to Chris. We quickly began discussing our mutual interest in the subject, and just before Christmas decided to seek out a suitable publisher and put together a proposal for a comprehensive, co-authored book on animal space flights.
I'd been working with Clive Horwood of Praxis for some time in regard to a Springer-Praxis book I'd co-authored with British space writer David Shayler (NASA's Scientist-Astronauts) , and I felt this book might work well as part of their superb space science catalogue. To our delight the proposal was accepted, at which time we formulated what each of us would write for the book.
Essentially, Chris worked on the Soviet/CIS side of the story, and fell straight into the horrendously onerous task of investigating the early Soviet ballistic and orbital dog flights - a history replete with misinformation, contradictions, articles written in a language totally foreign to us and a frustrating lack of totally reliable material. But he quickly rose to the challenge, and I am quite confident that no better or more factual account of this facet of spaceflight history will ever be written.
For my part, I worked mostly on the history of animal space flights associated with America and other non-Soviet countries. It was a somewhat guilt-ridden undertaking, as I had a far easier and more travelled path to follow than Chris. These missions and their backgrounds have been extensively and reliably documented, while people associated with the different programmes have been relatively easy to locate and contact.
I harbour no doubts at all that the two of us will one day collaborate on another book on a spaceflight topic, but this effort and its subject has been, and always will be, something very special for both of us.
I cannot overstate how indelibly the image of a dog in a satellite burned into my youthful imagination. For me, at the age of 11, there was simply no way to comprehend it. It was too novel, too extraordinary an achievement, that it did not fit within any knowledge base that I possessed. It was mythic.
Like Colin, I waited under the night sky just after sunset for the speck of light to pass overhead. And when it did, I was transfixed. I caught a glimpse on two occasions. I marvelled more for the extraordinary experience given to Laika than I agonized over her fate.
The godfather of Soviet rocketry, Sergei Korolev, once encouraged a reluctant colleague to work for him by explaining the awesome experience of watching a rocket launch. "Once you've seen it," he said, "it will stay with you for the rest of your life." He might just as well have been talking about watching a satellite in those early years. Sputnik and the host of American and Soviet satellites that followed in its wake all left a profound impression on me.
The siren call of this new science led me and some friends to form a rocket club at the dawn of the 1960s. We spoke to community groups about the future of rocketry. We drew considerable crowds to a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania when we launched our rockets. We even had our own animal flight, sending a hapless mouse named Ham to his death when the parachute recovery system failed.
Skip ahead some 45 years. An anniversary of Laika's flight renewed my interest in the subject and motivated me to write a book in 2003 about all of the dogs used in the Soviet space program. Although, I had worked as a writer all of my life, Space Dogs: Pioneers of Space Travel was my first venture into writing space history.
The following year, I was invited to serve as guest curator for the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, to create an exhibit, titled "Pupniks," based upon my book. More than anything else, that experience impressed upon me the richness of the subject of animals in space. While at the museum, I was able to view some of the archives from nearby Holloman Air Force Base, home to much of the pioneering work in American rocketry and to the early studies of animals flying in rockets. In fact, the corps of volunteer workers at the museum was rife with retirees who had worked in various phases of those early programmes and were eager to share their reminiscences. A network of collectors also proved wonderfully cooperative in helping me to gather images of the Soviet dogs for that exhibit, including the coauthor of this book, Colin Burgess.
Some of these collectors were incredibly knowledgeable and provided many useful suggestions that helped me to unravel a few of the mysteries surrounding the Soviet space dogs. And there were mysteries. Who would have thought that simply compiling a complete list of all of the dog flights and the dogs that flew on them would be such a challenge? Deciphering an ancient language might have been easier. Given the secrecy and the propaganda that surrounded the Soviet space effort, it isn't surprising that the historical record is meagre. But, here and there, the story of the dogs began to emerge. The caption on an old postcard or a TASS photo, the few Russian language memoirs that have seen publication, an oral history project of the Smithsonian Institution, a document translated by the U.S. government in the early 1960s, a newspaper clipping - no individual item was complete and definitive, but all were pieces in the puzzle.
Surprise gifts showed up from around the world, from writers, space enthusiasts, auction houses and museum directors, as if the world had kept these secrets in its collective attic all these years, and now that someone was finally asking questions, they could be given a home.
That wonderful experience has continued in the long preparation of Animals in Space. Both Colin and I have been fortunate to have connected with so many people who have given generously of their time and treasures, and their memories. Their enthusiasm for this subject energised us for the task of telling the story of all the animals that made a contribution to the exploration of space.
Colin Burgess Chris Dubbs
Bonnet Bay Edinboro
New South Wales Pennsylvania
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