Thursday, April 11, 2013

The First Female Astronaut

No, it wasn't Sally Ride.

The honor belongs to two canine cosmonauts, Desik and Tysgan, who made a sub-orbital flight on July 22, 1951. Both dogs returned safely, Although Desik was killed on another flight a few months later.

Desik & Tsygan, First Dogs in Space
All the canine astronauts (29 of them) were female because it was easier to make a space suit that would allow normal excretion. since the exit points for pee and poop are close together.
Original Space Module for Soviet Space Dogs

They were all strays. The space scientists thought that dogs who'd  already been living rough on the streets of Moscow would be better able to cope with the rigors of space flight than a pampered house pet. (19 of the 29 dogs survived and returned safely to earth.)
Doggy Space Suits
All but one of the dogs was "trained" for space flight. The training consisted of being confined for long periods in progressively smaller containers, wearing space suits, and being spun in centrifuges. They must have been running around loose at least part of the time, as two of the dogs ran off just before their scheduled flights. Smelaya was recaptured and sent into space on schedule, but Bolik made good her escape. She was replaced at the last minute by an unnamed and untrained street dog who was given the acronym ZIB (Substitute for Missing Bolik). Despite her lack of training, she survived the trip. I hope they at least gave her a name afterwards.

The first dog actually sent into orbit (and the only space dog whose name is commonly known), was Laika. She flew on Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. It was not planned that she would survive, and she didn't.

Laika, who died in the first orbital flight.
The year after that, Belka and Strelka, wearing red and green space suits, spent an entire day in orbit aboard Sputnik 5. Belka didn't enjoy the flight. By the fourth, fifth, and sixth orbits, she was barking trying to break free of her restraints. and vomiting.
Belka (on right) & Strelka, safely returned to earth
Because Belka had suffered so much distress, the first human spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin in 1961) was limited to a single orbit.

Both Belka and Strelka lived for many years after their adventure in space. After their deaths, both were stuffed. Strelka went on tour, while Belka remains at the Memorial Museum of Aeronautics, in Moscow.
Strelka in Australia in 1993
Strelka had many puppies. Nikita Kruschev presented one puppy, named Puchinka, to Caroline Kennedy in 1961. She went on to have "pupniks" of her own with First Dog, Charlie.
Puchinka with her puppies
Every article about Puchinka asserts that she has living descendants in the U.S. today. I believe it, but no actual living dog that I could find is being put forward as an example.

Too bad. I'd really love to know for sure that descendants of the space dogs are still among us.