The Lives of Perfect Creatures

"All the universe is full of the lives of perfect creatures."

                                                   - Constantine Tsiolkovski

On November 3, 1957, just 30 days after the first ever man-made object entered into earth orbit, the Soviet Union launched a second "artificial moon." Born aloft by a proto-Vostok launch vehicle to an altitude of 934 miles, Sputnik II was not only substantially larger than its predecessor, but also differed in so far as its payload was not just limited to instrumentation and telemetry, but included a living being - the first ever earth-born creature to leave our planet and enter into the cosmic vacuum.This first earth-born creature to leave the earth was, of course, the famed Laika (barker), whose flight commanded the attention of the entire world. Between 1959 and 1961, 10 more dogs in 6 separate missions followed Laika's courageous example culminating in the flight of Zvezdochka (daughter of the stars), who, in the mute company of Ivan Ivanovich, a human mannequin, made a single orbit flight in final preparation for April 12, 1961, that historic day, when, proven tenable by the dogs, Yuri Gagarin was launched into space in the first human extra-terrestrial flight.The dogs of the space program were all female, mixed breeds found on the streets of Moscow. Selected for their size and temperament, the chosen dogs underwent extensive training by behaviorist Gregor Garzenko to enable them to withstand the tremendous noise, extreme motion, and severe forces of a Vostok rocket launch as well as to help them become accustomed to the pressurized suits and capsules necessary for extra-terrestrial travel.While Laika, as well as four subsequent canines and a rabbit, did not return from their travels, the majority of the missions were spectacularly successful. Belka (Whitey) and Strelka (Little Arrow), accompanied by 40 mice, 2 rats, and a number of plants, became the first beings to safely return from space after seventeen orbits of the planet. Strelka later gave birth to a litter of 6 healthy pups, one of whom was presented to the young Caroline Kennedy by Nikita Kruschev as a gift from the Soviet peoples.


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