Laika the dog gets all the credit for paving humanity’s path to the stars. But the harsh reality is that she didn’t survive before returning to Earth in 1957.
The distinction of “first dogs to orbit the Earth and survive” belongs to Belka and Strelka.
Although Belka and Strelka made history 55 years ago, you can still meet these Russian heroes. Or, rather, the taxidermied effigies of the pups that once were.
I recently travelled to Russia and made it my personal mission to visit Moscow’s Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. I wasn’t disappointed.
Scroll down to see the Soviet space race’s furry heroes, who are still on display in a place most Americans don’t even know exists.
Most Americans don't know it exists, but in Moscow you can see its rocket-like monument rising up miles away.
Belka, Strelka, and their space capsule rest near the museum entrance. My wife wasn't happy to see dead dogs (even if they were famous).
Soviet scientists picked the mutts off the streets of Moscow. They figured strays would endure the harshness of space better than coddled thoroughbreds.
Both dogs were rigorously trained to endure extreme acceleration, confined spaces, and other challenges of space travel.
On August 19, 1960, they launched into space aboard Korabl-Sputnik 2. The dogs orbited the Earth more than a dozen times before landing the next day.
Soviets celebrated their return as four-legged heroes: They showed it was possible to survive in orbit. (Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit Earth the next year.)
Nikita Khrushchev (the Soviet premier) gave Pushinka to President John F. Kennedy's family, and she lived in the White House.
Pushinka and her puppies were popular figures at the White House, including the resident electrician. Their descendants still live on.
Even today, Belka and Strelka are still heroes. Thousands upon thousands of Russians come to see them every year.
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