Before Yuri Gagarin conquered space for humans, some 29 flights took place with dogs, the unsung heroes of man's arrival in the cosmos.
Dogs Comet (left) and Shutka, the unsung heroes of man's arrival in the cosmos. Picture: space-memorial.narod.ru
It was a risky venture: 15 out of 36 space dogs did not survive their flights. Recently The Siberian Times came across accounts of two of these dogs - Comet and Shutka - and their remarkable survival after a launch went seriously wrong.
At the time, the launch was hushed-up by the Soviet authorities.
On 22 December 1960, the space dogs - handpicked as canine survivors from their rough life on the streets - were launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on board a Vostok 1K spacecraft.
For Comet it was to be the third trip to space: the dog twice went into orbit the previous year.
This time after the launch, the rocket failed to reach orbit due to a malfunction in the third stage of the rocket.
The spacecraft reached a height of some 200km, before plunging back towards the ground. The emergency system activated and the dogs hit the ground in the Siberian wilderness, some 3,500 kilometres from the launch site. Picture: space-memorial.narod.ru
The spacecraft reached a height of some 200km, before plunging back towards the ground. The emergency system activated and the dogs hit the ground in the Siberian wilderness, some 3,500 kilometres from the launch site.
'At the beginning of the third stage the engine failed. The control system gave the order to separate the ship, and according to the calculations it was to be found in Yakutia', said Arvid Pallo, a close colleague of Sergei Korolev, the lead Soviet rocket engineer and spacecraft designer.
'Was the ship damaged? How did it land after the accident? What happened to the dogs that were to be catapulted in their container on Yakutian frost? These were the questions we had no answers for.
The temperature was minus 40C and there seemed no hope the dogs survived. A State Commission sent a search group to Yakutia, and four days later located the wreckage from the rocket near the village of Tura, between the rivers Ognekte and Yukteken.
The two female dogs remained inside the insulated module due to failure of the ejection system, a fact which saved their lives in the perishing conditions.
On the morning of 25 December, Armen Gyurdzhian, in charge of preparing space dogs, arrived at the scene; the rescuers begun to open the capsule with the dogs - and heard quiet dog barking. Picture: space-memorial.narod.ru
The Siberian Times has uncovered the signals sent as the search went on for the space dogs, as revealed in the diaries of Colonel-General NP Kamanin.
'... 12/22/60 flew to Moscow. Received information that 'Circles'(powerful ground-based direction finders used in Air Force) in Tashkent, Moscow and Krasnodar hear the signals of the module near the Tura River. Lieutenant General Kutasin gave order to pull the forces in area (planes, helicopters, people).
'23-24.12.60, two IL-14, two Li-2 and two An-2 flew around the area of Tura. Planes were flying day and night, but did not hear the signals, and the "Circles" during the day continued to receive signals.
'At 10:00 (Moscow time) on the 24.12.60, the pilot of one of the Li-2 Oleg Afanasiev detected the module 70 km south of Tura.
'Around 12.00 a helicopter pilot and Sarkisov, the pilot of the IL-14, who reported this to the Air Force HQ.
After a few hours came the encryption from Krasnoyarsk: 'Capsule with animals is fine. The dogs are inside'.
In fact, though, it was unclear whether the dogs were alive at this point. On the morning of 25 December, Armen Gyurdzhian, in charge of preparing space dogs, arrived at the scene.
The rescuers begun to open the capsule with the dogs - and heard quiet dog barking.
'They were alive despite the most pessimistic forecasts. But the mice and other small animals were frozen'.
Gyurdzhian wrapped poor, frozen, exhausted little dogs in a his coat and went back to Tura by helicopter. There had been no signs of life on 24 December, despite the noise made by the rescuers and during the night of the 25 December when the rescuers spend the night near the capsule. There were 'in a state half death because of the shock after crashing down and.... the cold in which they had to spend time till they were found'.
Gyurdzhian left for Moscow with the dogs.
'The dogs got to Moscow on the 26.12 and are feeling good. I've seen them on the 29th and greeted with a safe return,' wrote Kamanin.
The fate of Shutka after returning to Moscow is not known; Comet was adopted by Academician Oleg Gazenko, a specialist in aviation medicine, with whom she lived for 14 years. After her Siberian adventure, she went on to have puppies.
Comet was adopted by Academician Oleg Gazenko, a specialist in aviation medicine, with whom she lived for 14 years. After her Siberian adventure, she went on to have puppies. Pictures: space-memorial.narod.ru
'One cosmonaut, Comet, lived at my home,' said Gazenko. 'She was such a cute, fluffy, fair-haired dog with a sharp nose. She was a hero, flying as many as three times - twice in rockets, and a third on board the satellite, the forerunner of the ship, which was used for Yuri Gagarin's flight'.
Korolev had wanted to announce the failed flight by Comet and Shutka, but was banned from doing so by Soviet officialdom.
The result is that their heroic venture, surviving a space failure, is not properly recorded in many histories of space animals.