July 22, 2016

The First Canine Cosmonauts


The First Canine Cosmonauts

On July 22, 1951, the first rocket containing living beings shot into space. The passengers rose 68.35 miles into space with barely a bark, parachuted to land in a pressurized capsule, and got a juicy, Soviet bone for being good puppies. They were Dezik and Tsygan, the world’s first dogmonauts.

Why dogs? A whole menagerie had been competing to be first in space – including rats, mice, fruit flies, turtles, and monkeys – but in the Soviet Union, dogs were the winners. After all, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can train a stray dog off the street to cope with the ravages of space flight.

Specifically, the scientists in charge of the project picked on puppies because they could handle both waiting and confined spaces. Plus, they were so darned cute in those little space suits.

Web Ecoist

On top of that, it was usually lady dogs who were sent up because it was easier to provide for their sanitary needs (see all those wires and cords?). Plus, most of them were small, hardy strays and mutts. Can you imagine a pedigree poodle or Italian greyhound toughing it in space? Exactly.

These were dogs who were used to life on the streets, and all of a sudden they were facing life in a tight rocket with lots of cords and equipment and changing air pressure. The dogmonauts faced intensive training, just like the humans who came after them. They underwent multiple tests and practice sessions involving a depressurized cabin, space suits, weightlessness, and complex life support systems. By the end, they definitely earned their kibble.

Finally, the scientists and their canine friends were ready for the first launch. Dezik and Tsygan were the dogs chosen for the illustrious mission. They were placed in a detachable head portion of a V2 rocket and launched into the atmosphere. To get to the official border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, the dogs had to go up 100 km, or 62 miles. The rocket made it to an altitude of 110 km, or 68.35 miles – the limit of outer space. The head of the rocket then detached, and Dezik and Tsygan parachuted gently down to Earth’s surface, having become the first beings to achieve suborbital space flight.

It was one small step for these pups, one giant leap for dogkind.

Tsygan and Dezik in their doggy-friendly compartment. vilavi.ru

Aleksandr Seryapin, the medic who had the honor to open the door after the dogs landed, recalls the events of the day:

“The first flight turned out very successful: the dogs were alive. When we released them, a lot of cars pulled up, and Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov [the lead Soviet rocket engineer] was in one of them. When he saw the dogs – in my opinion, there wasn’t a happier person there. He grabbed them, ran around the cabin with them, poured them water, gave them sausages and sugar.”

The dogs emerged from their first flight unscathed – and even better, they got sausages out of the deal. But unfortunately, spaceflight is a risky business. Dezik made a second suborbital flight one week later with a dog named Lisa, but this time, the parachute didn’t open, and neither of the dogs survived.  

Tsygan, on the other hand, was adopted by Anatoly Blagonravov, a physicist who had been present at the first flight and fell for Tsygan’s charm. “Let the hero come and live with me,” he said. While a human cosmonaut may have opted for independence and further feats of heroism, Tsygan had no objections.

Over the next decade, the Soviet space program launched more than thirty suborbital flights. Not all of the dogmonauts involved survived, but the ones who did were rewarded with sausages and sugar, a permanent home with the scientists, and the status of Soviet hero – especially Laika, the first living being to orbit the Earth in 1957, and Belka and Strelka, who spent a full day in orbit in 1960 before safely returning to Earth.

The second half of the 20th century was marked by a worldwide fascination with Outer Space, especially as the dueling powers of the Cold War fought for supremacy – both on Earth and in the stars above. The animosity and diplomatic tensions of the Space Race were purely human rivalries, while many of the heroes on the front lines were brave animal explorers with no stake in international diplomacy. And key among them were the dogmonauts who followed in the pawprints of Dezik and Tsygan.

Collectors Weekly

 

You Might Also Like

Space Race II?
  • April 13, 2006

Space Race II?

On the 45th anniversary of the first manned space flight, Russia lays out an ambitious space plan.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955