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What Was the Legacy of the Soviet Space Dogs?

Sometimes the smallest of things can ease the harshest of situations. Take the Space Race during the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were hostile enemies engaged in heated competition to achieve supremacy in the skies. The Russians used dogs in their space program, and two of them -- Belka and Strelka -- eventually became the first animals to orbit the Earth and return alive. In 1961, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev came up with the perfect icebreaker: Pushinka, a puppy born to Strelka, one of those two groundbreaking canines. Krushchev sent Pushinka to U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The little ball of fur not only linked the countries' space programs, but she also helped thaw their frosty relationship. Kennedy warmly thanked his Soviet counterpart in a letter, noting that the ride Pushinka took from Russia to America might not have been as dramatic as the one Strelka took, but it was still "a long voyage and she stood it well." Kennedy and Krushchev remained on cordial terms afterward, even though it would be nearly three more decades until the Cold War came to an official end.

Dogs on a mission:

  • The first animal to reach outer space was Laika, a dog that rode Sputnik 2 into orbit in 1957.

  • Scientists working for Russia's space program swept city streets to find stray dogs for use in space flights.

  • Belka and Strelka flew into space with a rabbit, two rats, 40 mice, and various plants and fungi.

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