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Melt Your Brain: Dogs in Space

Melt Your Brain is a series of videos where we reveal facts that may well make your brain feel like it is melting!

In ‘Dogs in Space’, we reveal how, before humans went into space, dogs went into space…

During the 1950’s and 60’s, there was a space race between the US and the USSR. Before humans went into space, chimps went into space, in particular, a chimp called Ham – there’s a really famous photo of Ham getting back to Earth and reaching out the hand of friendship to a human – which was really beautiful.

And before chimps went into space, dogs went into space – they were actually the first mammals in space. They wanted to send a dog into orbit to prove that an animal, in particular a mammal, could survive launch, and also survive in micro-gravity. The official definition of micro-gravity, from the NASA website, is: “the condition in which people or objects appear to be weightless”.

Laika was the first dog to be sent into orbit – in Sputnik II in 1957. She was found by the Soviet Space Agency as a stray on the streets of Moscow. They decided that it was better to use strays than dogs that were used to the ‘creature comforts’ of home.

So, the dogs were given specialist training – over a series of days, they were confined to smaller and smaller cages – because they needed dogs that would be calm and placid in really tightly confined environments like when they were shot into orbit. The Soviet space programme only used female dogs because they felt that female dogs’ temperaments were calmer and better for their needs, and also because the tiny little dog spacesuits that were made only had a waste disposal system for female dog parts and not male dog parts!

Some of the dogs were returned safely to Earth – Laika however wasn’t so lucky – the official line was that Laika survived until Day 6 when she died of oxygen depletion. There was even the story that she was euthanised which meant she would have slipped off quietly to sleep. However, in 2002, it was revealed that she died within hours of overheating. So basically, they cooked a dog alive in space!

In the UK, in 1957, the National Canine Defence League held a minute’s silence for Laika- which is 7 dog minutes. If it’s any consolation, she’ is remembered on a stamp. There is also a statue and a plaque of Laika in Star City, and they were erected in 1997.

Don’t worry though, not all of the dogs that were sent into space died, in fact,  most of them returned alive and well – some even went into space more than once. Although 60 per cent of the dogs that returned did suffer from constipation!

If you want to see a dog spacesuit, there’s one in the National Space Centre in Leicester, just off the A6.

Watch the video to find out more!