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Soviet Space Dogs

Supporting abandoned dogs in Ukraine

The sad story of Laika, the first animal to go into orbit, is known amongst space enthusiasts around the world, but Laika was just one of many dogs that played a vital role in the Soviet space programme.

This dual language (English/Russian) digital artwork visualises the data from the book "Soviet Space Dogs" by Olesya Turkina, and shows the flights and fates of all the known Soviet Space Dogs.

Scroll down to learn more about the Soviet Space Dogs, the data visualisation artwork, and the charity it supports.

Soviet Space Dogs: Soviet Space Dogs

How to Read / Пояснения

Each dog from the Soviet space programme is represented by a circle.  Flights are represented by triangles along the timeline at the bottom.  Dogs are connected by lines to the flights that they flew on. Symbol shapes, sizes and colours give information about the dogs and flights, as shown below. 

Каждая собака советской космической программы обозначена с помощью круга. Полеты обозначены треугольниками с датами снизу. Собаки связаны линиями со своими полетами. Форма, размер и цвет символа обозначают собак и полеты, как указано ниже.

Soviet Space Dogs: Text


Enlarged sections of the visualisation.
Click to expand.

Soviet Space Dogs: Details

About the Soviet Space Dogs

The story of the Soviet Space Dogs is told eloquently by Olesya Turkina, Senior Research Fellow at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, in her 2014 book “Soviet Space Dogs”.  This dual language (English/Russian) digital artwork visualises the data from the book and tells the story of the Soviet Space Dogs pictorially, from Dezik and Tsygan, the first dogs to leave the Earth, via Laika, the first animal to orbit the Earth; Belka and Strelka, who were the first to survive orbit; and Otvazhnaya, the “brave one” who made more flights than any other dog; to Ugolyok and Veterok, who survived the last and longest flight, spending 22 days in orbit.

Image: Laika, first animal to orbit the Earth

Credit: O.Turkina, "Soviet Space Dogs" 2014

Soviet Space Dogs: About the Dogs

...from street dogs to stars...

All the Space Dogs were former street dogs, captured and put through training in small cages to simulate the confines of their space capsule, and in centrifuges replicating the high g-forces they would experience during launch. It was considered that their lives of hardship would make them better able to tolerate the stresses of space flight than a pampered pet, accustomed as they were to privations such as hunger and cold on the streets of Moscow in winter.

Many died during the course of their flights, either due to some mission failure such as the parachute not opening or the cabin decompressing, or on “successful” missions where the recovery mechanism designed for them functioned as intended but was not, in fact, survivable. These canine heroes of the Soviet Union became famous, immortalised on postcards, stamps, sweet tins and cigarette packets, many of which are used by Olesya Turkina to illustrate her book. Belka and Strelka featured in children’s books and cartoons, while one of Strelka’s puppies, a dog named Pushinka ("Fluffy"), was gifted to John F Kennedy and went on to have half-American pups of its own.

Image: Belka Strelka on a magazine cover

Credit: O.Turkina, "Soviet Space Dogs" 2014

Soviet Space Dogs: Street Dogs to Stars

...we did not learn enough...

Laika was the only dog for whom no recovery was ever planned, at least partly due to the rushed planning of Sputnik-2 which was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bolshovik revolution. Knowing that she was fated to die on her mission one of her trainers, Vladimir Yazdovsky, took her home with him shortly before the flight in order to do “something nice” for her.

For many years the authorities maintained that Laika was euthanised humanely after one week in orbit, as planned. However, they later admitted that the temperature control mechanisms aboard Sputnik-2 had failed, and Laika in fact died of heat exhaustion only a few hours into her flight.

“The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it… We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

- Oleg Gazenko, Russian medical doctor & space dog trainer

Image: "The Adventures of Belka & Strelka" - Children's book cover

Credit: O.Turkina, "Soviet Space Dogs" 2014

Soviet Space Dogs: We did not learn enough
Soviet Space Dogs Book Cover

About the Data

The majority of the data visualised in this artwork comes from the book “Soviet Space Dogs” by Oleysa Turkina.

Where dogs were known by multiple names, just one has been used for ease of reading the visualisation. Where flight data such as altitude or rocket type was missing from the book it has been supplemented with data from the NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive, where available. Where flight altitude data was not available it has been estimated for the purposes of visualisation. For orbital flights the height shown is an average of apogee and perigee heights. Rocket series outlines were obtained from the Encyclopedia Astronautica.

You can buy a copy of the book, with a 10% donation to the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal, from Fuel Publishing here:

Soviet Space Dogs: About the Data


Inspiration for the colours and shapes used in this visualisation has been drawn from illustrations from within the book.

These illustrations include a variety of Soviet artefacts, from stamps and postcards to sweet-tins and cigarette packets, on which the Space Dogs were immortalised.

Click to enlarge.

Images: A Soviet cholcolate box, a Soviet postcard, the first statue of Laika, a Soviet envelope, a Mongolian postcard

Credit: O.Turkina, "Soviet Space Dogs" 2014

Soviet Space Dogs: Visual Influences

About the Charity

Shelter Friend - Ukraine

Prints of this visualisation are being sold to raise funds for Shelter Friend, a non-profit organization and rehabilitation centre for the homeless animals in Dnepr City, Ukraine, who are dealing with an influx of abandoned dogs due to the current conflict.  Costs of production and shipping are deducted, but all profits go to Shelter Friend.

If you wish to make a direct donation to Shelter Friend you can do so via PayPal to

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Soviet Space Dogs: About the Charity
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