On Dogs and Space

When the Soviet scientists rounded up strays, they sought small, feisty dogs who could withstand the punishing preparation and, they hoped, the rigors of spaceflight. Many dogs died, and even those who lived paid a price.

—Dana Jennings, “Strays Leading the Soviets into Space,” The New York Times, Nov. 3, 2014

LaikaThe Lady says she tends to get choked up when she thinks about Laika, the most famous of the Soviet space dogs and one of the first animals launched into orbit. Mainly because she thinks about her lonely, painful death in the confines of Sputnik 2. And also she remembers hearing John Haskell‘s fictionalized version of Laika’s journey on a podcast years ago and being transfixed by its ending.

I am small, and could well be described as feisty, and though I don’t think I was ever a stray, I was a shelter dog. I am always up for adventure, but I don’t like to be confined (I’m still not very happy in a crate). So I probably wouldn’t have made a very good cosmonaut. On the other hand, I am a quick learner and like most of my canine brethren, eager to please. So who knows? Maybe I would have been a likely candidate had I been living on the streets of Moscow in the 1950s. I probably would have learned my duties well (as long as those scientists compensated me with enough treats), and I may very well have been one of those chosen for a lonely mission into the cold, dark unknown. That’s the thing about being eager to please: You will end up working to fulfill someone else’s ambitions. You just have to trust they will do what’s best for both of you.

Laika is in the news again because of a new book by Olesya Turkina called Soviet Space Dogs, which is mentioned in the review quoted above. My People and I haven’t looked at the book yet, so this isn’t a review, but it has me pondering these things. Although these cosmonaut dogs became famous for their contributions to science, for now I’m happy being just a regular old small, feisty dog doing nothing more traumatic than riding in a shopping cart now and then.


Dana Jennings’s review: “Strays Leading the Soviets into Space: Soviet Space Dogs Tells the Story of Canine Cosmonauts” 

Studio 360 podcast episode of John Haskell’s “Laika’s Dream”

Becky Ferreira, “Why We Still Want Laika the Space Dog to Come Home” 

 Soviet Space Dogs, published by FUEL Publishing. Text by Olesya Turkina

It is believed that the image of Laika in this post qualifies as fair use.