60th anniversary of Belka’s and Strelka’s mission

On August 19, 1960, a three-stage carrier rocket was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with the second ‘satellite-spaceship’ 1K, which was a prototype of the Vostok manned spacecraft. Under the program of preparations for the world’s first manned space mission, the spacecraft put into orbit some living beings who later safely returned to the Earth.

Belka and Strelka. Image credit: Psychology Today

Development of the Soviet manned spacecraft began in OKB-1 (now known as RSC Energia) by the Government Resolution dated May 22, 1959. In just one year, the design team under the leadership of the Chief Designer Sergei Korolev completed development of the core systems and equipment of the new spacecraft, and the Pilot-Production Plant No.88 (now known as ZAO ZEM of RSC Energia) built the first test units in cooperation with other companies in the rocket and space industry.

Directly involved in the development of the experimental mission to put into space biological tests subjects was the Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow. Selected as animal test subjects were dogs named Belka and Strelka, who were placed into an ejectable container, which for the first time was equipped with a life support system and scientific and medical equipment. Also placed onboard the spacecraft were mice, insects, plants and bacteria.

The flight preparations were under control of Sergei Korolev himself. 12 dogs were selected according to a special method. Weight: up to 12 kg, height: up to 35 cm, age: 2 to 6 years, light color. Outbred dogs Belka and Strelka turned out to be the best in the group. The 25-hour automatically controlled mission made 17 full revolutions around Earth and verified performance capability of the spacecraft life support system and other systems, obtained unique scientific data on the effects of space environment on physiological, genetic and cytological functions of living organisms.

The well-being and behavior of the animals were monitored via an onboard TV system, which transmitted pictures to ground tracking stations. Upon completion of the program of experiments on August 20, 1960, the spacecraft, on command from the ground, began re-entry and successfully landed in the designated landing area in Kazakhstan.

After the flight, the dogs lived at the Institute of Aviation and Space Medicine and travelled to kindergartens and schools for displaying. Several months later, Strelka successfully bred 6 healthy puppies with one of them presented to Jacqueline Kennedy. Belka and Strelka lived to a great age and died a natural death.

Belka and Strelka were the third space crew with Laika being the pioneering space dog in 1957.

The scope of completed research and the nature of problems addressed in the course of Belka’s and Strelka’s mission proved that it would be possible to safely carry out a human orbital mission. The program of developmental testing of unmanned ‘satellite-spaceship’ spacecraft made possible the world’s first manned mission of Vostok spacecraft on April 12, 1961.

Source: Roscosmos