This time I want to tell you how our actions in the past year will affect the future of the FCI. I am not saying it is not important to summarise our achievements and to explain why we proceeded in a certain way, but I want to talk about our future as an international organisation, but most important about the future of our dogs worldwide.

Three aspects have been transcendental during the past year; cooperation and collaboration, innovation and preparation for the future. These three aspects will lead our organisation for the next year.

Read more

Rafael de Santiago
FCI President
Dogs in the space race

Dedicated to all the dogs – past, present and future - that give their lives for mankind.


It was the nineteen fifties, an era that saw a stand-off between the superpowers - i.e. the almighty USSR and the proud USA. The Soviets were putting pressure on the North Americans by announcing their successes - which had more to do with propaganda than with science, cheered on by Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the Russian president known all over the world simply by his surname. The Cold War and espionage, together with the arms and space races, were part of everyday life in those days.
The truth is that the first animal to make the great leap forward into space was a monkey called Albert in 1948 (although experiments with monkeys had been going on for almost a decade), on a suborbital flight which he failed to survive, because the North Americans used them to test weightlessness and the effects of acceleration on primates, being the creatures most similar to human beings, in order to forecast what effects there might be on explorers in the future. The Russians were hot on their heels, as they didn’t want to fall behind because they needed to exploit the resounding success of Sputnik - which was launched on 4th October 1957, orbiting Planet Earth in Outer Space - for propaganda purposes and as a result they took enormous security measures in order to guard against any possible espionage and/or sabotage at all times.
The Soviet space programme was headed up by three men: Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (the engineer who had founded the space programme), Doctor Vladimir Yazdovsky, who was in charge of selecting the animals, and a scientist called Oleg Georgievich Gazenko, who was in charge of training. President Khrushchev gave the former the job of redesigning a copy of Sputnik so that it could carry a pressurised container which might house a living creature. The president wanted everything to be ready in less than a month in order to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
This would be a twofold coup - celebrating with great pomp while the whole world looked on, and showing off the scientific and technological might of the USSR.

Dogs rather than monkeys, mongrels rather than pure-bred

The Soviets used dogs rather than monkeys for various reasons - the first was that they were cheap, as they were street animals, the second was that they responded to training better than nervous primates, the third was they could withstand longer periods of inactivity, the fourth was that stray dogs show an incredible ability to survive in adverse circumstances and the fifth was because they were popular; it was as though a beloved part of the Russian people were travelling into space to represent them.
They were chosen very carefully; females were usually preferred because they did not need to cock a leg to urinate, which was important as they would be in a very small space. They could be no more than 35 centimetres tall, had to weigh no more than 6 kilos and could be no older than 6 and no younger than 2 years of age, in excellent physical condition and health, and with a quiet nature.
The animals were usually captured in Moscow itself and sent to the Aerospace Medical Research Institute, where they were selected and trained and then those which failed to pass the tests were put down.
All of this was top secret, so much so that even the names of the dogs were encrypted and no information was available until the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Although Laika was not the first dog to fly, she was the first one ever to go into orbit. Various suborbital flights with dogs were launched, the first of which were Dezik (marble white) and Tsygan (black and white) on 22nd July 1951. Both survived, becoming the first living beings in the world to come back from one of these experiments, although one of them died on a subsequent mission.

Space training

They underwent a very tough training programme, with Gazenko in charge. He handled this himself, getting the animals which had been chosen – based on the characteristics I explained in the previous section - accustomed to being in a small cockpit, using compartments which got gradually smaller until they reached a size simulating the one in which they would be travelling. They were in there for periods of time ranging from just a few hours up to twenty days, which meant that many animals suffered enormous physical damage and failed to complete the training programme.
Another part of the training was to place them in a centrifugal machine, inside which they were subjected to high speeds in order to simulate the accelerations or G forces that the animals would experience during a flight. The dogs were monitored during this experiment. It doubled their pulses and blood pressures, they breathed more quickly and many of them ended up vomiting and fainting. This was very tough training which also involved various vibrations and sudden movements in order to familiarise them with the capsule taking off and landing.

Laika the space explorer

Three animals were preselected: Laika, Albina (who had already completed two suborbital flights) and Mushka (Little Fly), and they all underwent an even tougher second training programme specifically designed for the new mission. The three little females became accustomed to feeding themselves in the capsule using a special mechanism and got used to the noises made by the operational equipment which would accompany it.
Laika, the little Moscow street dog, looked rather like a small terrier. She was one of the group of twelve dogs trained at the Experimental Institute, and which spent more than a year getting ready for suborbital flights, although this time it would be far tougher. When she was captured, she was originally named Kudryavka (Little Curly), although that was soon changed to Laika (Barker), as this was the name of various breeds from northern Russia and Siberia and it sounded more patriotic. She was selected to occupy the ship by Doctor Yazdovsky ten days earlier. Her substitute would be Albina and, if the latter failed, Mushka was third choice.
Each dog was got used to wearing a suit with a harness which restricted her movements but allowed her to lie down, sit and move slightly backwards and forwards, and which also protected her skin. They all underwent surgery to install sensors near their carotid arteries, with another near the heart and a kind of girdle around their chests. They were watched carefully to avoid any infections after the operations. The Russians got them used to having a meal and drinking water twice a day and to relieving themselves into a bag located behind them.
The animal’s cockpit measured 64 x 80 cm and had a cover and a small cylindrical window made of aluminium alloy. There was equipment to measure the ambient temperature and humidity, plus the monitors to which the dog was connected so that a close eye could be kept on her vital signs. If the temperature rose by 15°, a ventilation system was activated which also used chemical compounds to absorb any excess humidity and carbon dioxide.
Laika, who was roughly two years old and weighed six kilos, discovered at first hand just how selfish human beings can be. Khrushchev was in a hurry and the engineers were unable to provide the ship with a safe return system so, as a result, the doctors only left her with enough food for a week and, finally, a certain amount of poison to put her to sleep so that the poor animal would not suffer.
Doctor Yazdovsky had become fond of the little dog due to her docility and sweet nature and, on the day before they were to take her to Baikonur Cosmodrome - the base in Kazakhstan - he secretly took her home with him, so that she should experience the love of a family and she spent a long time playing with the doctor’s children, to give her something she had never known, the warmth and love of a family.
Then off Laika went to meet her destiny, she spent three days before take-off living in the cockpit in which she would have to travel. The module was heated so that the low temperatures would not damage Laika´s health before she set off.
She set off on her one-way trip at 5.30 a.m. Moscow time on 3rd November 1957. Initially the dog’s rate of breathing rose to four times more than normal and her heart rate doubled, but within ten minutes her vital signs had returned almost to normal, and she had something to eat. On going into orbit, the capsule broke away successfully, but they had not taken into account the fact that the friction would generate more heat which meant that the ventilation system broke down and the temperature in the cabin rose to 40°, and as a result Laika was only able to survive for between five and seven hours. The whole truth became known in October 2002, at the World Space Congress which was held in Houston (Texas) and this information was revealed by Dimitri Malashenkov, who took part in the whole project.
The ship became Laika’s coffin, orbiting for 162 days until 14th April 1958, then breaking up on contact with the Earth. It had travelled more than 100 million kilometres and orbited Earth approximately 2,400 times.
All of this created a huge stir among animal lovers who, as part of a series of organised protests, demonstrated in front of the USSR’s various embassies around the world, as well as a mass demonstration in front of the United Nations headquarters. In Russia, people were talking not about Laika but about the damage to USSR’s image this had caused.
Khrushchev was inundated with letters of protest from all over the Western world.
The Soviet political propaganda machine attempted to repair the damage to the country’s image in the West caused by the way Laika had been treated and she was idolised as a national hero in books and children’s toys, on posters, in photographic prints, on matchboxes etc., etc. in a jumble of the USSR’s Pop Art, the police and the coronation of a mongrel as a representative of the Soviet people and the working classes who, in posters in the street, displayed a stylised, arrogant profile. She became no more nor less than yet another icon of Communism.
Some people in the West used her as a symbol of the martyrdom of animals and put up monuments to her, while others saw her as a symbol of Bolshevism and its victory in the space race, opening monuments to her to shout down the voices of Western protest. She may perhaps be the dog who has received the most tributes from mankind, with the largest monument being the one dedicated to the conquerors of space, on which she is shown by an explanatory bas relief, unveiled in 1964.

Other cosmonaut dogs

In spite of the protests from the West, many dogs continued to be used for tests of this kind up until 1966 and were actually later replaced by monkeys.
Lisichka (Little Fox) and Bars (Snow Leopard) died in the Vostok flight test which exploded upon launch on 28th July 1960. On 5th August of the same year, Belka (Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow), together with 40 mice, 2 rats and plants, were launched into orbit on the 19th of the same month, returning on the 20th with the animals safe and sound. Strelka gave birth to six healthy puppies and one of them was presented to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. On 1st December of the same year, Mushka - one of Laika’s substitutes - and Pchyolka (Little Bee) died upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere when the space capsule blew up. On 22nd December of the same year, Damka (Queen of Draughts) and Krasavka (Little Beauty) were on an orbital flight which was aborted and the bitches survived and returned safely. Chernushka (Blackie) set off on 9th March 1961 and was safely recovered and Zvyozdochka (Starlet), who took off on 25th March, was also recovered without any problems. The final journey - as far as we know - by dogs into space took place in 1966, on board the biosatellite Kosmos, Veterok (Light Breeze) and Ugolek (Coal) spent twenty-two days in space and were fortunately recovered; these latter two dogs are the ones who have spent the most time in space.
After this it would appear that there were no further experiments with our four-legged friends. I cannot leave you without repeating the exact words used by Gazenko, the man who trained Laika and various other space dogs, when talking about the canine pioneer: “The more time goes by, the more I regret what happened. We shouldn’t have done it… We didn’t even learn enough to justify the animal’s death”; he said this in 1998 and always remembered her right up until his own death in 2007.

Rafael Fernández de Zafra


Soviet Space dogs by Damon Murray
On The Pathways Of The Universe by Doctor Vladimir Yazdovskiy