20 August 1960: Russia’s ‘space dogs’ recovered alive

On this day in 1960, Russian mongrels Belka and Strelka became the first dogs to be recovered alive after having been shot into space.

The race to get a man into space saw all manner of beings blasted into the atmosphere before it was deemed safe for humans to have a go. 

Most famously, there was Laika. Things didn't go terribly well for her. Laika was shot into orbit aboard Sputnik 2 on 3 November, 1957, becoming in the process the first animal (that we know of) in space. It was a one-way mission. Sputnik 2 wasn't designed to be recoverable, and the Moscow stray was never intended to return.

Two more dogs are known to have given their lives. Bars and Lisichka were scheduled to orbit, but their Vostock rocket exploded shortly after takeoff. There were at least five more doggy deaths, but, the Soviet Union being what it was, we're unlikely to know for sure. It was not until August 1960 that an animal was successfully recovered from orbit.

Two mongrels, Belka and Strelka, along with a nameless rabbit, 40 mice, a couple of rats and some flies, were shot into orbit aboard Sputnik 5 on 19 August. They spent a day circling the Earth, having their vital signs monitored, and returned successfully on the 20th.

Strelka went on to give birth to six puppies. One – Pushinka – was given to US president John F Kennedy's daughter by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Before she was allowed to play with it, it had to be thoroughly prodded and screened by White House spooks to make sure there was nothing of the KGB about her. She went on to have puppies of her own.

After their deaths, Belka and Strelka's bodies were preserved, and are to this day on display in Moscow's Memorial Museum of Cosmonauts.

Recommended

28 November 1660: the Royal Society is founded
This day in history

28 November 1660: the Royal Society is founded

After the restoration of the monarchy, members of the “Invisible College” asked King Charles II to approve their scientific and literary society. A Ro…
28 Nov 2020
27 November 1924: Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day parade
This day in history

27 November 1924: Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day parade

On this day in 1924, New York department store Macy's held its first Thanksgiving Day parade. It would soon become a city institution, kicking off the…
27 Nov 2020
27 November 1967: Charles de Gaulle vetoes Britain's entry to the EEC
This day in history

27 November 1967: Charles de Gaulle vetoes Britain's entry to the EEC

On this day in 1967, French president Charles de Gaulle vetoed Britain's attempt to join the European Economic Community, claiming Britain didn’t agre…
27 Nov 2020
26 November 1992: The Queen volunteers to pay income tax
This day in history

26 November 1992: The Queen volunteers to pay income tax

With Britain in recession and Windsor Castle having recently caught fire, the Queen's request to pay income tax was accepted by Parliament, on this da…
26 Nov 2020

Most Popular

The next 20 years: five new technologies on the horizon
Global Economy

The next 20 years: five new technologies on the horizon

What will everyday life be like in two decades’ time? Matthew Partridge peers into his crystal ball.
12 Nov 2020
This week’s rally in value stocks is just the beginning
Value investing

This week’s rally in value stocks is just the beginning

The arrival of a vaccine this week saw huge gains in the markets and investors switching out of big-tech growth stocks and into “value” stocks in more…
13 Nov 2020
Share tips of the week
Share tips

Share tips of the week

MoneyWeek’s comprehensive guide to the best of this week’s share tips from the rest of the UK's financial pages.
13 Nov 2020