Space dogs were part of Soviet propaganda, perhaps in its most demonstrative form.

This was quite an apt birthday book as my birthday shares the date with the anniversary of the first animal in space. Many of us have heard of Laika, the dog Russia sent into orbit, but many don’t know the sad story surrounding her, and that of many other Soviet Space Dogs. A few hours into her mission, Sputnik overheated due to miscalculations and poor Laika died, alone and scared.

Most of what I’ve read about the space race has been from the US perspective, so it was interesting to read a Russian book. The translation isn’t amazing (or maybe the original lacks something) but this is more than made up for by the abundance of Soviet imagery, from propaganda to merchandise, all showing the dogs as proud Soviet heroes. There were even children’s books written about them.

Much of what we know now was hidden from the public. In fact, the USSR kept their space programme shrouded in secrecy as the believed their great socialist state couldn’t be seen to fail. Yet they were quick to announce their successes when they could show they had beaten America to the post.

This cliched notion that everyone must be ready to die for their Motherland was naturally projected onto Laika.

It’s quite a sad little book though. They chose strays, not just because people wouldn’t care about them, but they believed they would be made of tougher stuff than the average dog. Many died, but some got the privilege of life after space. Some of the scientists involved spoke out in later days that they regretted the suffering they imposed on the dogs. Those that did return to earth had litters to demonstrate how space didn’t affect fertility. Even the US president was gifted a space puppy.

It could have been a bit more in depth, but it’s a gorgeously produced book if you’re interested in imagery of the era, or just want to know a bit more about the dogs who paved the way for human space travel.

Belka, Strelka and Laika.

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Book Source: Gifted