How Many Dogs Have Been to Space?

Laika statue outside a research facility in Moscow (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky)

Becoming an astronaut is a rare honor. The rigorous selection process, the hard training, and then… the privilege of going into space! It is something few human beings will ever be privileged enough to experience. But what about other species of animal that have gone into space? Are we not being just the slightest bit anthropocentric in singling out humans for praise?

What about all those brave simians and mice that were sent into space? What about the guinea pigs and rats? And what of “Man’s Best Friend”, the brave canines that helped pave the way for “manned” spaceflight? During the 1950s and 60s, the Soviets sent over 20 dogs into space, some of which never returned. Here’s what we know about these intrepid canines who helped make humanity a space-faring race!


During the 1950s and 60s, the Soviets and Americans found themselves locked in the Space Race. It was a time of intense competition as both superpowers attempted to outmaneuver the other and become the first to achieve spaceflight, conduct crewed missions to orbit, and eventually land crews on another celestial body (i.e. the Moon).

Albert II in preparation for his historic flight. Image Credit: NASA
Albert II in preparation for his historic flight. Image Credit: NASA

Before crewed missions could be sent, however, both the Soviet space program and NASA conducted rigorous tests involving animal test subjects, as a way of gauging the stresses and physical tolls going into space would have. These tests were not without precedent, as animals had been used for aeronautical tests in previous centuries.

For instance, in 1783, the Montgolfier brothers sent a sheep, a duck and a rooster when testing their hot air balloon to see what the effects would be. Between 1947-1960, the US launched several captured German V-2 rockets (which contained animal test subjects) to measure the effect traveling to extremely high altitudes would have on living organisms.

Because of the shortage of rockets, they also employed high-altitude balloons. These tests were conducted using fruit flies, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, frogs, goldfish and monkeys. The most famous test case was Albert II, a rhesus monkey that became the first monkey to go into space on June 14th, 1949.

For the Soviets, it was felt that dogs would be the perfect test subjects, and for several reasons. For one, it was believed that dogs would be more comfortable with prolonged periods of inactivity. The Soviets also selected female dogs (due to their better temperament) and insisted on stray dogs (rather than house dogs) because they felt they would be able to tolerate the extreme stresses of space flight better.


A safety module that was commonly used to send Russian "space dogs" into orbit. Credit: WIkipedia Commons/Bricktop/Russia in Space
Image of the type of safety module that was used to send Russian “space dogs” into orbit. Credit: WIkipedia Commons/Bricktop/Russia in Space


For the sake of preparing the dogs that were used for the sake of test flights, the Soviets confined the subjects in small boxes of decreasing size for periods of between 15 and 20 days at a time. This was designed to simulate spending time inside the small safety modules that would housed them for the duration of their flights.

Other exercises designed to get the dogs prepared for space flight included having them stand still for long periods of time. They also sought to get the dogs accustomed to wearing space suits, and made them ride in centrifuges that simulated the high acceleration experienced during launch.

Suborbital Flights:

Between 1951 and 1956, the Russians conducted their first test flights using dogs. Using R-1 rockets. a total of 15 missions were flown and were all suborbital in nature, reaching altitudes of around 100 km (60 mi) above sea level. The dogs that flew in these missions wore pressure suits with acrylic glass bubble helmets.

Model of R-1 rocket at Znamensk City, near Kapustin Yar missile range. Credit: Wikipdia Commons/
Model of R-1 rocket at Znamensk City, near Kapustin Yar missile range. Credit: Wikipdia Commons/

The first to go up were Dezik and Tsygan, who both launched aboard an R-1 rocket on July 22nd, 1951. The mission flew to a maximum altitude of 110 km, and both dogs were recovered unharmed afterwards. Dezik made another sub-orbital flight on July 29th, 1951, with a dog named Lisa, although neither survived because their capsule’s parachute failed to deploy on re-entry.

Several more launches took place throughout the Summer and Fall of 1951, which included the successful launch and recovery of space dogs Malyshka and ZIB. In both cases, these dogs were substitutes for the original space dogs – Smelaya and Bolik – who ran away just before the were scheduled to launch.

By 1954, space dogs Lisa-2 (“Fox” or “Vixen”, the second dog to bear this name after the first died), Ryzhik (“Ginger” because of the color of her fur) made their debut. Their mission flew to an altitude of 100 km on June 2nd, 1954, and both dogs were recovered safely. The following year, Albina and Tsyganka (“Gypsy girl”) were both ejected out of their capsule at an altitude of 85 km and landed safely.

Between 1957 to 1960, 11 flights with dogs were made using the R-2A series of rockets, which flew to altitudes of about 200 km (124 mi). Three flights were made to an altitude of about 450 km (280 mi) using R-5A rockets in 1958. In the R-2 and R-5 rockets, the dogs were contained in a pressured cabin

Credit: Wikipedia Commons (.ru)
Photo of Otvazhnaya and the Mafrusha, two of the three brave cosmonauts who flew together on July 2nd, 1959. Credit: Wikipedia Commons (.ru)

Those to take part in these launches included Otvazhnaya (“Brave One”) who made a flight on July 2nd, 1959, along with a rabbit named Marfusha (“Little Martha”) and another dog named Snezhinka (“Snowflake”). Otvazhnaya would go to make 5 other flights between 1959 and 1960.

Orbital Flights:

By the late 1950s, and as part of the Sputnik and Vostok programs, Russian dogs began to be sent into orbit around Earth aboard R-7 rockets. On November 3rd, 1957, the famous space dog Laika became the first animal to go into orbit as part of the Sputnik-2 mission. The mission ended tragically, with Laika dying in flight. But unlike other missions where dogs were sent into suborbit, her death was anticipated in advance.

It was believed Laika would survive for a full ten days, when in fact, she died between five and seven hours into the flight. At the time, the Soviet Union claimed she died painlessly while in orbit due to her oxygen supply running out. More recent evidence however, suggests that she died as a result of overheating and panic.

This was due to a series of technical problems which resulted from a botched deployment. The first was the damage that was done to the thermal system during separation, the second was some of the satellite’s thermal insulation being torn loose. As a result of these two mishaps, temperatures in the cabin reached over 40º C.

Animals in Space
The famous space dog Laika, pictured here  before her launch in 1957. Credit: AP Photo/NASA

The mission lasted 162 days before the orbit finally decayed and it fell back to Earth. Her sacrifice has been honored by many countries through a series of commemorative stamps, and she was honored as a “hero of the Soviet Union”. Much was learned from her mission about the behavior of organisms during space flight, though it has been argued that what was learned did not justify the sacrifice.

The next dogs to go into space were Belka (“Squirrel”) and Strelka (“Little Arrow”), which took place on Aug. 19th, 1960, as part of the Sputnik-5 mission. The two dogs were accompanied by a grey rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats, flies, and several plants and fungi, and all spent a day in orbit before returning safely to Earth.

Strelka went on to have six puppies, one of which was named Pushinka (“Fluffy”). This pup was presented to President John F. Kennedy’s daughter (Caroline) by Nikita Khrushchev in 1961 as a gift. Pushinka went on to have puppies with the Kennedy’s dog (named Charlie), the descendants of which are still alive today.

On Dec. 1st, 1960, space dogs Pchyolka (“Little Bee”) and Mushka (“Little Fly”) went into space as part of Sputnik-6. The dogs, along with another compliment of various test animals, plants and insects, spent a day in orbit. Unfortunately, all died when the craft’s retrorockets experienced an error during reentry, and the craft had to be intentionally destroyed.

The dogs Veterok and Ugoljok who took part in a scientific experiment, 22 day flight in space. Credit: Wikipedia Commons
The dogs Veterok and Ugoljok, who spent 22 days in orbit as part of the Cosmos 110 mission. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Tekniska museet

Sputnik 9, which launched on March 9th, 1961, was crewed by spacedog Chernenko (“Blackie”) – as well as a cosmonaut dummy, mice and a guinea pig. The capsule made one orbit before returning to Earth and making a soft landing using a parachute. Chernenko was safely recovered from the capsule.

On March 25th, 1961, the dog Zvyozdocha (“Starlet”) who was named by Yuri Gagarin, made one orbit on board the Sputnik-10 mission with a cosmonaut dummy. This practice flight took place a day before Gagarin’s historic flight on April 12th, 1961, in which he became the first man to go into space. After re-entry, Zvezdochka safely landed and was recovered.

Spacedogs Veterok (“Light Breeze”) and Ugolyok (“Coal”) were launched on board a Voskhod space capsule on Feb. 22nd, 1966, as part of Cosmos 110. This mission, which spent 22 days in orbit before safely landing on March 16th, set the record for longest-duration spaceflight by dogs, and would not be broken by humans until 1971.


To this day, the dogs that took part in the Soviet space and cosmonaut training program as seen as heroes in Russia. Many of them, Laika in particular, were put on commemorative stamps that enjoyed circulation in Russia and in many Eastern Bloc countries. There are also monuments to the space dogs in Russia.

Laika, dog launched into space on stamp from Rumania Posta Romania , 1957. Credit: WIkipedia Commons
Romanian commemorate stamp showing Laika, the first dog launched into space, from Rumania Posta, 1957. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

These include the statue that exists outside of Star City, the Cosmonaut training facility in Moscow. Created in 1997, the monument shows Laika positioned behind a statue of a cosmonaut with her ears erect. The Monument to the Conquerors of Space, which was constructed in Moscow in 1964, includes a bas-relief of Laika along with representations of all those who contributed to the Soviet space program.

On April 11, 2008, at the military research facility in Moscow where Laika was prepped for her mission to space, officials unveiled a monument of her poised inside the fuselage of a space rocket (shown at top). Because of her sacrifice, all future missions involving dogs and other test animals were designed to be recoverable.

Four other dogs died in Soviet space missions, including Bars and Lisichka (who were killed when their R-7 rocket exploded shortly after launch). On July 28, 1960, Pchyolka and Mushka also died when their space capsule was purposely destroyed after a failed re-entry to prevent foreign powers from inspecting the capsule.

However, their sacrifice helped to advance safety procedures and abort procedures that would be used for many decades to come in human spaceflight.

We have written many interesting articles about animals and space flight here at Universe Today. Here’s Who was the First Dog to go Into Space?, What was the First Animal to go into Space?, What Animals Have been to Space?, Who was “Space Dog” Laika?, and Russian Memorial for Space Dog Laika.

For more information, check out Russian dogs lost in space and NASA’s page about the history of animals in space.

Astronomy Cast has an episode on space capsules.


What Animals Have Been to Space?

What Animals Have Been to Space?

When we think of astronauts, we think of humans. But there have been plenty of animals who have traveled in space as well.

When we think of spaceflight, we think astronauts. You’re a human, you perceive the Universe with your human-centric attitudes. You… specist.

The reality is that the vast number of living things sent to space were our animal buddies. This is a tough topic to hit, as it’s kinda sad. More sensitive animal loving viewers might want might to skip this one, or at least grab some tissue. Just don’t shoot the messenger.

We’ve thrown so many different kinds of animals into space, a better question might be: what animals haven’t been in space? It’s a Noah’s Ark salad of living things.

Mice, monkeys, fish, reptiles, frogs, insects, dogs, and of course, those hardy hardy tardigrades, who laugh at the rigors of spaceflight, and eat vacuum for breakfast. We’ve brought them all home safe and sound. Well, some of them. A good number of them. All the tardigrades are fine. I think.

At the beginning of the space age, scientists sent a series of animals in high altitude balloons to test the physical demands of spaceflight. Scientists had no idea whether creatures could even survive high altitude or radiation, so they sent insects, mammals and even primates nearly halfway to space.

This is how we roll. Mostly we make all kinds of weird assumptions about what might happen, and really it’s better to send a handful of bugs than a person. When we first worked out flight, there were concerns all the air would get sucked out of our lungs and we’d just pass out. Sometimes we get a little freaked out.

This high altitude business all seemed to go well enough. So they packed the poor creatures, I mean our brave animal adventurer friends onto left-over German V-2 rockets and fired them on ballistic trajectories, including a few monkeys.

The Russians… oooh, Russians… were the first to send dogs into space, with Tsygan and Dezik. They didn’t actually reach orbit, and were both brought home safely. Good dogs!

Sputnik 2
Laika inside Sputnik 2

Here’s the one you’re waiting for… Laika was launched aboard the second spacecraft to ever orbit the Earth, Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. At that point, scientists weren’t sure if humans could even survive spaceflight, or if we’d just dissolve after soiling our space pantaloons.

Oh, you hu-mans. Soviets chose the toughest dog they could find, a stray mutt they found living on the streets of Moscow. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, I could.

If I did, I’d make it more like, they went to the toughest dog bar in all of Moscow and met the bouncer, Laika at a high stakes winner take all poker-slash-Russian roulette game for all the bones, in a dark smokey dog house in the back.

Originally, it was reported Laika lasted 6 days in orbit, but in 2002, it was uncovered that she actually died shortly after launch. Either way, Laika was doomed, as technology to recover a capsule from space was still a few years off. Apparently there was some kind of race on.

Five months after launch, Sputnik 2 burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere, and Laika’s name still lives on to this day in legend.

In the 50s and 60s, there was a whole series of monkeys sent to space. A third survived their flights and then went on to live long monkey lives, reminiscing about their days of monkey glory hanging out in the primate version of that bar in “The Right Stuff”.

In 1961, Ham the Chimp was sent into space on board a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Ham was trained to believe he was flying the spacecraft. The brave little tyke demonstrated that human astronauts could do the same, as long as they were rewarded with fruit.

Three months later, Alan Shepard followed in Ham’s footsteps, becoming the first American in space. Whether the fruit rewards program was retained is classified.

Chimps in Space
Ham, the Chimpanzee

From that point on, it was a river of living things traveling into space: crickets, ants, spiders, newts, frogs, fish, jellyfish, sea urchins, snails and shrimp.

Even cockroaches. Seriously, somebody thought that would be a good idea. I suspect it was part of some kind of secret Atomic SuperRoach program.

One of the most poignant stories of animals traveling to space has got to be the nematode worms that flew to orbit with the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.

When the shuttle tore up on re-entry, killing all 7 astronauts, the nematode worms survived the re-entry and crash landing. There were 60 other science experiments on board Columbia, many of which included animals: fish, insects, spiders, bees and even silk worms. Only the nematodes survived.

It wasn’t the originals that they found. Nematodes have a lifecycle of 7-10 days, so the ones they discovered were probably 5th generation removed from the initial spaceketeers.

As you can see, we aren’t the only creatures to go to space. In fact, we’re the minority. Space belongs to the tardigrades, mice and nematode worms.

I for one welcome our horrible waterbear overlords.

Okay, I’m going to brace myself for this one. Do you think it’s ethical to use animals in spaceflight? Tell us your opinion in the comments below.

Who was the First Dog to go into Space?

Animals in Space
Laika before launch in 1957 (AP Photo/NASA)

Before man ever set foot on the moon or achieved the dream of breaking the Earth’s gravity and going into space, a dog did it first! Really, a dog? Well… yes, if the topic is the first animal to go into space, then it was a dog that beat man to the punch by about four years. The dog’s name was Laika, a member (after a fashion) of the Russian cosmonaut program. She was the first animal to go into space, to orbit the Earth, and, as an added – though dubious – honor, was also the first animal to die in space. Laika’s sacrifice paved the way for human spaceflight and also taught the Russians a few things about what would be needed in order for a human to survive a spaceflight.

Part of the Sputnik program, Laika’s was launched with the Sputnik 2 craft, the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit. The satellite contained two cabins, one for its “crew”, the other for its various scientific instruments, which included radio transmitters, a telemetry system, temperature controls for the cabin, a programming unit, and two photometers for measuring solar radiation (ultraviolent and x-ray emissions) and cosmic rays. Like Sputnik 1, the satellite’s launch vehicle the R-7 Semyorka rocket, a ballistic missile that was responsible for placing the satellite into the upper atmosphere.

The mission began on November 3rd, 1957 and lasted 162 days before the orbit finally decayed and it fell back to Earth. No provisions were made for getting Laika safely back to Earth so it was expected ahead of time that she would die after ten days. However, it is now known that Laika died within a matter of hours after deployment from the R-7. At the time, the Soviet Union said she died painlessly while in orbit. More recent evidence however, suggests that she died as a result of overheating and panic. This was due to a series of technical problems which resulted from a botched deployment. The first was the damage that was done to the thermal system during separation, the second was some of the satellite’s thermal insulation being torn loose. As a result of these two mishaps, temperatures in the cabin reached over 40º C.

In spite of her untimely death, Laika’s flight astonished the world and outraged many animal rights activists. Her accomplishment was honored by many countries through a series of commemorative stamps. The mission itself also taught the Russians a great deal about the behavior of a living organism in space and brought back data about Earth’s outer radiation belt, which would be the subject of interests for future missions.

We have written many articles about Laika for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the first animal in space, and here’s an article about Russia sending monkeys to Mars.

If you’d like more info on Laika, check out NASA’s Imagine the Universe Article about Laika, and here’s a link to The First Dog in Space Article.

We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about the Space Capsules. Listen here, Episode 124: Space Capsules, Part 1 – Vostok, Mercury and Gemini.