According to Soviet scientists, no creature is more suitable for space experiments than a mongrel. Stray mongrels are used to fighting for their lives, they are smart and tough, all of which is important for survival in space. Dogs for the first space flights were caught in the streets, but selection was careful: they had to have the right height, weight and temperament, and they had to photograph well. The dog had to be no taller than thirty-five centimeters and no heavier than six kilograms, to prevent any problems with its accommodation. And it needed to look good in photos: after the flight, those photos were printed in media all over the world.
By 1951, the pack of cosmonaut mongrels had two leaders: Dezik and Tsygan. They were dressed in special shirts and pants to keep the sensors in place if they decided to scratch, fed them with stew meat until full, packed into special containers and launched into near-Earth space on a high-altitude rocket. A quarter of an hour after the launch, the stratonauts descended back to Earth with parachutes. Safe and sound.
The dog named Laika was not so lucky. The launch was prepared in a hurry, to get her into space by the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution, and debugging of systems was not completed. On November 3, 1957, TASS reported the launch of the second Soviet satellite with the first living cosmonaut on board. The photogenic Laika demonstrated that it was possible to survive in space. But not to return to Earth: the soft-landing system was not yet developed, the overheating control system was not operational. The resilient Laika survived in orbit until her oxygen supply was depleted. That fact was not known in the USSR, and the people were celebrating the scientific success. But hers four-legged sacrifice was not in vain: the “cosmonauts” that followed her, fellow stray mongrels Belka and Strelka, returned to Earth safely. Then there were Mushka, Pchyolka, Chernushka, Zvyozdochka... And only then it was the turn of Yuri Gagarin. He himself joked, a little bluntly, asking, “Am I the first human in space, or the last dog?”