Training, puppies and care. How Belka and Strelka lived before and after the flight

August 22

The whole country watched with excitement the launch of the second space vehicle on August 19, 1960. This excitement was completely understandable: there were two small dogs on board, who were destined to become the first living beings to make an orbital space flight. The next day, the general excitement was replaced by jubilation: the dogs returned safe and sound.

Belka and Strelka made a great contribution to space exploration — their successful return gave confidence that a human being can also endure such a flight. Yuri Gagarin went into orbit a little more than six months later. Read to learn how Belka and Strelka prepared for the flight, behaved in space and lived after their return.

25 hours of flight

When the rocket began to gain the altitude, the animals became noticeably worried. This was transmitted by the corresponding sensors, which were monitored by specialists. Fortunately, Belka and Strelka quickly calmed down, realizing that they were not in any danger. After ascending the orbit, the four-legged astronauts received lunch from feeding machines and completely forgot all their worries. The life support system in the space vehicle cockpit was working properly; everything was perfect — there were no failures.

Belka and Strelka were not the only passengers of the space vehicle. Mice, insects, microbes, fungal cultures, seeds of grain and vegetable crops, and even human skin cells in the form of preparations flew with them in the landing section. The latter was especially important, since the scientists wanted to know how human cells would react to an unusual environment.

Dogs Belka and Strelka after an orbital flight. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

The flight lasted 25 hours; the space vehicle made 17 complete circuits around the Earth. All this time, Belka and Strelka were monitored using a television system. Everything was recorded on tape — the precious material allowed us to analyze without haste how the animals behaved at certain moments. The sensors attached to suits of space dogs reported their pulse, blood pressure, and cardiogram indicators.

The landing was also successful, and the animals returned unharmed. They were a little sluggish at first though and lost their appetite, which was explained by stress; but everything soon returned to normal. Belka and Strelka became celebrities. Their images were printed on postcards, stamps, and posters. The flight did not affect their health in any way: Strelka after some time gave birth to six absolutely healthy puppies, one of which went to the United States as a present to President John F. Kennedy and his wife.

Strelka and her puppies. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

The most hardy

Belka and Strelka had competitors, as other dogs could have got on board. The special service was specially looking for street dogs, since they are believed to be less queasy and know what the struggle for life is which means that they are best suited for an important mission.

The following requirements were imposed on the candidates: weight - up to six kilograms, shoulder height - up to 35 cm, from two to six years old, and only females (it is easier to equip a toilet for them). The color should have been light to be better visible from the monitor screens. There were 12 dogs left in the final group. Scientists decided that two would go on a trip, since the animals felt better and calmer when not alone.

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A. Gurdjian, an employee of the Air Force Aviation Medicine Institute, adjusts the space equipment to Belka and Strelka. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

After the veterinary examination, the dogs started training at the production base of the Air Force Aviation Medicine Institute. For several months, they became gradually accustomed to prolonged stay in an enclosed space and noise. They were taught to eat from feeding machines, not to tear off the sensors on special suits. The dogs endured high overloads on the centrifuge and vibrating bench. Scientists monitored their condition around the clock.

Vilna (completely light) and Kaplya (with brown spots) were regarded the most intelligent, quick-witted and hardy. One of the scientists who worked with the dogs gave them other names. He considered that Belka and Strelka would sound more suitable for the world fame.

Dogs Belka and Strelka at work. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

What was it necessary for?

The idea of sending animals and then a person to space came to Sergey Korolev back in the 1930s. But the implementation of this bold idea was preceded by many years of preparation.

The topic of a human going into space gradually began to enter into the picture in late 1940s, when the national rocket industry began to develop dramatically. Sergey Korolev was already the chief designer of the Special Design Bureau No. 1 at that time. Under his leadership, the best scientists in the country had to find out whether living beings could survive enormous loads without harm to their health.

Initially, it were monkeys who were supposed to fly into space, but then it turned out that dogs are calmer, better trained and easier tolerate confined spaces.

Sergey Korolev. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

No less brave dogs

The flight of Belka and Strelka was preceded by many years of scientists working with animals. Nine years before this event, male street dogs Dezik and Tsygan went on a suborbital flight. On July 22, 1951, a geophysical rocket with them reached 87 kilometers 700 meters. After that, the landing section with the dogs separated and parachuted the animals back to Earth. Dezik and Tsygan behaved cheerfully after landing.

Tsygan the dog. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

Six years later, the second earth satellite vehicle was launched into low earth orbit on November 3, 1957. It delivered the first living creature to space on the near-Earth orbit - the dog Laika, whose return was not planned. The radio telemetry system constantly monitored Laika’s well-being, and this allowed the scientists to draw a conclusion about how the human body would behave in similar conditions. The scientists got their answers, and then it was time to think about more detailed research and to observe how the animals behaved when landing.

Laika the god before an orbital flight. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

“There will come a time when a manned space vehicle will leave the Earth and go on a journey to distant planets and distant worlds...” Sergey Korolev wrote in December 1957.

There was a tragedy a month before the flight of Belka and Strelka: dogs Chaika and Lisichka died as a result of an accident on the first stage of the space vehicle. Sergey Korolev was particularly fond of the latter. Many people heard him whispering to her before putting her in the cockpit of the space vehicle: “I want you to come back.” It was decided to provide the next space vehicle after the incident, the one that Belka and Strelka were to fly, with pressurized landing section, which can now be seen in the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow.

After the four-legged pioneers, dogs Mushka and Pchelka flew into space in December 1960. But their flight, as in the case of Lisichka and Chaika, ended with a tragedy: the stabilization system of the brake propulsion system failed at the final stage of the descent from orbit, which changed the descent trajectory. A secret space vehicle with animals could have landed abroad; hence, it was exploded. After this unsuccessful flight, chief designer Sergey Korolev said that a person would fly into space only if the next two flights in a row with animals were successful. On March 9, 1961, Chernushka the dog flew into near-Earth orbit, followed by the dog Zvezdochka on March 25. Yuri Gagarin saw her off. After making one revolution around the Earth, they landed safely.

Chernushka the dog. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

Research with the participation of dogs continued after the famous flight of Yuri Gagarin. On February 22, 1966, the unmanned space vehicle Kosmos-110 was launched with dogs Ugolyok and Veterok on board. They survived 22 days in a confined space vehicle and successfully returned home. Their record-breaking long flight showed scientists that such a long stay in zero gravity can lead to functional and structural changes in muscles, bones, and the sensorineural system, which are not irreversible — eventually the body will return to normal.

Veterok and Ugolyok. From the funds of the Museum of Cosmonautics

Today one can see the “accessories” of some of these animals in the Museum of Cosmonautics: the cabins in which they flew, scientific equipment, a model of the pressurized landing section of a geophysical rocket, newsreel footage about preparations for flights and much more. But the centers of the exposition are stuffed bodies of Belka and Strelka themselves. Beloved by everyone, Belka and Strelka lived their lives in peace and comfort at the State Research and Testing Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine. Both dogs died in a very old age.


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