The legendary flight turns 62 today
The dogs Belka and Strelka became the first living creatures to travel into space and return to their home planet alive and well. This happened on August 19, 1960. A little less than eight months remained before the first manned flight into space …
The selection of future astronaut dogs began in 1957. They had to go through long training before the flight. The requirements for the candidates were the strictest. The dog must be a female, no more than 35 centimeters tall, weigh no more than 6 kg and be aged from 2 to 7 years. In addition, the color of the dog was required to be light, so that it would be more convenient to observe it on the screen. The dogs had to be claimed to be attractive as well, so that if they entered the media they would personify the appearance of an exemplary Soviet dog. But this myth is probably already an invention from the 90s of the last century. But it is a fact that the dogs were selected in an ordinary dog home for homeless animals. So all twelve selected females were regular mixers.
Members of the first division of four-legged cosmonauts sat for several hours a day in close quarters and in terrible noise – that’s how they were used to the future cosmic reality. They were taught to eat from special machines, to be in clothes and among a large number of sensors and devices, and even to go to a special toilet. Animals were trained to survive in the ship for 8 days, although the flight was originally intended to last only one day.
After many months of training at the Institute of Biomedical Problems in Moscow, it became clear that Belka and Strelka showed the best results. By the way, these names were given to them already in the cosmonaut corps. Belka was taken from the shelter under her real name Vilna, and Strelka used to be Drop. The squirrel was characterized as a leader, active and sociable dog. For example, she was the first to learn to bark when something went wrong. Strelka was shy and withdrawn, but friendly. At the time of the space flight, both dogs were approximately two and a half years old. After successful tests on the shaker and centrifuge, the flight date was set…
But first, on July 28, 1960, their girlfriends Kantarell and Chaika flew. 23 seconds after launch, the combustion chamber in the side block of the rocket collapsed and the dogs died. The ship Sputnik-5, on which Belka and Strelka flew, was already equipped with catapults. They have a chance to survive in the event of a disaster. The fifth spacecraft “Sputnik-5” was manufactured in OKB-1 in Kaliningrad near Moscow under the leadership of Sergei Korolev.
Belka and Strelka were far from alone on board. Along with them, 12 mice, all kinds of insects, plants, fungi, seeds of corn, onions, peas, wheat and microbes went to open spaces. In such friendly company, Belka and Strelka launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 11:44 Moscow time on August 19, 1960. They were observed with the help of a television system during the minutes when the ship was in the coverage area of ground signal reception points. All this was recorded on tape. Dogs’ health was monitored online – pulse, pressure, temperature and an electrocardiogram worked. We fed the “faunonauts” twice during the flight day.
After the fourth turn, Belka became agitated, tried to free herself from the belts, barked, then vomited. And this despite the fact that the devices did not show any deviations in health.
At some point, the American satellite Echo-1 flew past Sputnik-5. Belka and Strelka began barking at him in unison, causing an understandably happy animation in the Mission Control Center. This incident was later enjoyed more than once as a manifestation of the patriotism of the Soviet cosmonaut dogs, but in fact they received the command “voice” at that time, which the obedient Belka and Strelka performed.
More than a day later, at 13:32 on August 20, the command to descend was given. The descent vehicle successfully landed in a given triangle between Orsk, Kostanay and Amangeldy. All involved noted with satisfaction that both dogs were doing very well. So Belka and Strelka became the first animals to make an orbital flight in space and successfully return to Earth.
This experiment played a major role in the study and exploration of outer space. It was concluded that a person is capable of making exactly the same flight.
The next day after landing at TASS, a press conference was held and the whole world recognized the Soviet cosmonaut dogs. Less than a year later, Strelka had healthy offspring – six puppies. Pushka puppy was presented to the daughter of US President John F. Kennedy – Carolina.
For their feat, the dogs were rewarded with a long and peaceful life within the walls of the Norwegian Research and Testing Institute for Aviation and Space Medicine. They died of old age and natural causes. The Soviet Union did not want to lose the symbols of the era and made stuffed animals from them, which to this day are in the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow …