Soviet Space Dogs


(Photo credit:

(Image shows two dogs sitting on top of a planet alongside the title of the book: Soviet space dogs)

On 3 November 1957, Laika was the first living being in outer space, giving her instant global fame. Her death a few hours after launching was used to transform her into a symbol of patriotic sacrifice. She has inspired films and songs, had monuments erected to her, and countless mementos made with her image.

Laika is not the only canine cosmonaut that died at the hands of the Soviet space program; more than a dozen other dogs lost their lives before her. (Similarly, during the Cold War-era Space Race, NASA in the United States sacrificed several monkeys and apes to test flight conditions for humans.)

Subsequent canine space travellers, Belka and Strelka, were the first to return alive, and were immediately featured in children’s books and cartoons. They became beloved stars at a time when the USSR frowned on celebrating individual achievements.  

Laika, Belka, Strelka, and other dog cosmonauts symbolised the ultimate Soviet heroism, seen as simple creatures laying down their lives for their country and the advancement of science. Images of the Space Dogs proliferated, reproduced on everyday goods across the Soviet Union: cigarette packets, sweet-tins, badges, stamps, postcards and toys.  

Damon Murray, co-founder of FUEL Design and Publishing in London, came up with the idea to put a book together about the true story of these early space explorers. He collected the images and commissioned Dr. Olesya Turkina, a senior research fellow at the Russian Museum, to write the text. The resulting Soviet Space Dogs is a gorgeous work of kitsch curiosities.

It uses images of the dogs and the ephemeral items they were publicised on to illustrate the poignant tale of how these unassuming Space Dogs became legends and paved the way for the first man in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the Earth in 1961.

Further details of Soviet Space Dogs can be found on the main catalogue (available in ‘Catalogues’ on the Library’s website)