Space dogs move centre stage

If one was looking for a hint during that summer that a dog might shortly fly into space, the signs were all there. Even as the CIA was constructing its model of the Baikonur launch facility that June and the R-7 suffered its second failed launch attempt, the Soviet Union forsook its usual secrecy. It began holding press conferences and sending news releases to the world press, ramping up publicity for the anticipated launch of the first Soviet satellite, Sputnik, as part of the IGY.

Three of the dogs that had made suborbital flights - Linda, Malyshka and Kozyavka - were trotted out for foreign reporters at a June press conference held by the State Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. The animals were in good health, it was reported. Films made during their flights showed that they had behaved normally. "I would like the British correspondents to inform the British Society of Happy Dogs about this," stated Aleksei Pokrovskii, director of the Institute of Aviation Medicine and a member of the Soviet IGY committee, "because the Society has protested to the Soviet Union against such experiments." The chorus of complaints would escalate considerably later in the year with the launch of Sputnik 2 [4].

At the same time in the United States, the press sensed a growing excitement amongst notable Russian space scientists, whose carefully-worded articles in Pravda

Space Dogs
Kozyavka, Linda and Malyshka, who had just completed suborbital flights, on display at a press conference in June 1957. (Photo: authors' collections)

R-7 (8K71) 8K71PS

Test vehicle Sputnik (PS) launcher

1957 1957

With the first successful launch of the R-7 rocket in August 1957, the stage was set for the launch of the Sputnik satellites. Sputnik 2 carried the dog Laika, the first living creature to orbit the Earth. (Illustration: NASA)

R-7 (8K71) 8K71PS

Test vehicle Sputnik (PS) launcher

1957 1957

With the first successful launch of the R-7 rocket in August 1957, the stage was set for the launch of the Sputnik satellites. Sputnik 2 carried the dog Laika, the first living creature to orbit the Earth. (Illustration: NASA)

and elsewhere gave credence to mounting speculation about the imminence of a Soviet satellite launch. Seven times during the month of June the New York Times carried articles about Soviet plans to launch satellites, including one that claimed dogs would be passengers on one of these spacecraft [5].

On 21 August, when the R-7 recorded its first successful flight, travelling 3,700 miles from Baikonur to Kamchatka, all obstacles to the launch of the first satellite seemed to have been removed.

Meanwhile, the concurrent series of suborbital launches concluded in late August and early September with three R-2A flights to an altitude of 130 miles. On each of these flights, one of the two dogs was anaesthetised in order to test physiological reactions without the complicating factors of fear and stress. Nearly a year would pass before suborbital flights resumed in August of 1958, with a series of flights to an altitude of 280 miles. In that hiatus, the Soviet space programme would make history -

and shock the Americans - by launching the world's first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik, on 4 October 1957. That accomplishment drew such an enormous amount of favourable publicity to the Soviet space programme, and to the Soviet Union in general, that it contributed to the hasty decision to launch a second satellite, Sputnik 2.

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