The Bark Side of the Moon: The Untold Story of the Space Race Animals

“The Way is Open for Man”

Originally submitted as a junior thesis, and published in the Hayes History Journal.

Only days before, hers was the bark heard around the world. Soon, it would be a bark forever silenced. She had already completed a full orbit of the earth, making her the first living creature to do so. The next few orbits would further cement her name in history, but also take a terrible physical toll on the Moscow stray. Her already floppy ears would droop. She would begin to pant as the heat in the cabin began to climb. This once animated creature would start to lose more and more energy, until she simply had none left. She would close her eyes, heart racing, breath laboring, and, for the second time that day, enter the heavens to which no living creature had ever tread. Laika, the space dog, was dead, but her legacy would echo through the ages.

Animals as Test Subjects

The commencement of the Second World War was a moment of relief and celebration for much of the world. Yet, from the ashes of this conflict a new war would take shape. One which would pit the liberal democratic United States against the communist Soviet Union and divide the world, and even the heavens, accordingly. Indeed, one of the most prominent battlegrounds of this conflict was outer space. This Space Race, saw both sides clamoring to demonstrate their scientific and technological superiority by making it further and further into the final frontier. Unlike any conflict before it, the first soldiers commissioned in the battle for extraterrestrial domination were largely non-human animals. This was a calculated decision which reveals much about the way in which humans categorize and value their non-human compatriots. The exceptionally high mortality rates of early space experimentation led to humans using those lower on the food chain in their stead. As such, an extensive menagerie of non-human animals including mice, monkeys, dogs, rabbits, cats, turtles and chimpanzees were offered as sacrificial lambs in the name of science.[1]  Many would not survive. The series of V-2 rockets tested by the United States in the late forties caused the death of two monkeys (Albert II and Albert IV) and a mouse.[2]  The Soviet’s R-1 series experiments utilized a total of nine dogs, of which four perished.[3] Despite these tragic deaths, the Soviet Union pushed ahead and sent Laika into space in 1957. She would not return to Earth alive. The Thor-able rocket series, Jupiter Rocket, and Discoverer 3 Spy satellite projects killed at least 21 mice in total.[4] Other animal fatalities include: squirrel monkeys (Gordo and Goliath), dogs (Bars, Lisichka, Pchelka, Muska), turtles, fish, and seven tadpoles among others.[5] Despite the wide array of species utilized in these experiments, dogs and monkeys made up the bulk of high-profile test subjects.

Image 1 Michael was one of the lucky monkeys to survive a test flight in 1952. Others were not so fortunate.

In the Soviet Union, the decision to use dogs as the primary test subjects was motivated both by a pre-existing wealth of research on dogs and by simple convenience.[6]  The Nobel prize winning physiologist Ivan Pavlov was a native Russian and his work relied heavily on the study of dogs.[7] Thus, the Soviets inherited a wealth of information of the anatomy of dogs and its correlation with that of humans, predisposing them to the continued use of canines in scientific experimentations.  Additionally, stray dogs were running rampant in Moscow following the Second World War. With no owners to convey any sense of sentimental attachment to these creatures they made readily acquirable test subjects.

            In the United States the situation was quite different. Following the First World War the American public had grown increasingly attached to the dog as a household pet and extended member of the family. Thus, the use of dogs as subjects of scientific experimentation was less than ideal from a public relations perspective. Instead, NASA largely utilized monkeys and chimps in its scientific experiments. Their anatomy was also highly comparable to that of humans and the public on the whole was less sentimentally attached to them as a species making them preferable to dogs and other companion species. That is not to say that the United States would not face backlash for its use of animals in its scientific experiments. In fact, public outcry against the use of animals in science was already an established practice in America by the start of the Cold War, in large part, because of the work of Victorian-era anti-vivisectionists.

Vivisection, the, “dissection of living animals for experimental purposes,” was practiced as early as the 17th century but became increasingly wide spread during the 19th century.[8]  With its increased popularity among the scientific community, the practice of vivisection was met with intense resistance. The American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) and other likeminded organizations were established in order to dismantle the practice of vivisection through legal means.[9] They struggled to find success in these pursuits as veterinary vivisectionists asserted that the sacrifice of a few dogs was vital to the survival of the masses of canines the world over.[10] A similar line of logic would be used to justify the use of animals in the experiments pertaining to space exploration decades later. The official NASA webpage dedicated to the animals of the space race declares:

“These animals performed a service to their respective countries that no human could or would have performed. They gave their lives and/or their service in the name of technological advancement, paving the way for humanity’s many forays into space.”[11]

In other words, the unwilling sacrifice which these animals made was justifiable because of the magnitude of their contribution to human understanding of the cosmos. In both the Soviet Union and the United States the rights of animals were less valuable than those of humans and the progress of humankind. Despite this very dismissive attitude towards the life and dignity of these animals, many of the non-human cosmonauts were simultaneously regarded as national heroes, a type of propagandistic celebrity unique to them alone.  Thus, a fascinating discrepancy in the categorization and valuing of these animals emerged which the United States, in particular, has struggled to reconcile.

Animals as Boundary Objects[12]

Amy Nelson accounts for this apparent discrepancy by identifying the Space Race animals as boundary objects, “a concept that has been used to show how the same specimen, exhibit, or research subject means different things to different people.”[13]  This allows the same animal to be categorized in several different ways by several different observers. Thus, the same Soviet stray might be seen as a type of ‘biotechnology’[14] by Russian scientists, a national hero by the Russian public, and a defenseless victim of human exploitation by Western observers all at once. Interestingly, the varying categorizations of these animals was frequently divided along national lines.  As Nelson observes, “Western criticism over the use of dogs as experimental subjects in space research played against the Soviets’ promotion of the brave canine ‘scout’ and their adept manipulation of the dogs in the Cold War propaganda war.”[15]  This super power rivalry fueled the formation of a unique iteration of ‘celebrity’ which applied exclusively to Cold War space explorers, both human and otherwise. The concept of celebrity animals was well established in the American conscious by the onset of the Cold War.  Space celebrities such as Able, Baker, and Laika were preceded by Rin-Tin-Tin, Jumbo, Balto, and Lassie. The history of celebrity animals in America is quite extensive, but truly took off with the development of film following the First World War.  Americans ate up heartfelt stories of canine heroism during the war with such enthusiasm that they made stars of man’s best friend.[16] Canine celebrities took off further with the expansion of the film industry which developed ‘flea features,’ to capitalize on the popularity of such stories.[17]

In this climate of increased interest in companion species, the dog, especially, came to loom large in the hearts and minds of the average American. Balto, the sled-dog who successfully led a perilous journey across Alaska to save the town of Nome, became a house-hold name and even had a statue erected in his honor in Central Park.  His cinematic compatriots including Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie also connected with the American public. Their acts of every-day heroism and unwavering loyalty to their humans made them into to high-grossing icons. As the public grew increasingly enamored with Lassie and Balto, they also became increasingly disposed towards the dog species as a whole.[18]  A similar but intensified emotional response was directed towards the animals of the Space Race. Instead of simply embodying their breed or species, these animals took on the representative power of entire nations. As Damjanov and Crouch explain, “each of them attained the ‘representative power of celebrities’ as emblems of humanity’s achievements…”[19] Thus, the celebrity of the Space Race animals ascended to a level which surpassed that of all who came before them as they represented their host country in a battle for international dominance. Under international space law, human astronauts are granted the status of, ‘envoys of mankind,’ a title which Damjanov and Crouch assert unofficially applies to non-human cosmonauts as well.[20]  The infamy of the most groundbreaking Space Race animals certainly rivaled that of their human compatriots so much so that Yuri Gagarin, once asked the press, “am I the first human in space, or the last dog?”[21]  Certainly, the names Laika, Able, and Baker loom just as large in the pages of history as Gagarin, Armstrong, and Ride, but unlike their human counterparts these animals unwittingly participated in the missions which made them infamous. While few would deny that they were test subjects, national icons, and political pawns it needs to be recognized that the Space Race animals were ultimately victims of human cruelty.  While it is too late to right many of the wrongs committed against animals in the pursuit of space exploration, it is both possible and imperative to remember and reflect on their role in history.


            The first animal to be sent to outer space was a husky-spitz mix taken off of the streets of Moscow.[22] By Laika’s flight in November 1957, the Soviets had already culminated a tradition of using dogs for scientific purposes. As such, Laika was not the first of her kind. During the early part of the 1950’s a total of nine other canines would be used in Soviet space tests.[23] Of these nine, four would not survive.[24] Even with a fatality rate that would be considered quite high by today’s standards, the Soviets moved forward with plans to send yet another canine sacrifice into space. The mission which would seal Laika’s fate was hastily put together by scientists facing pressure from Premier Nikita Khrushchev who desired the next space flight to be in orbit on November 7th, 1957 in order to commemorate the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.[25]  Consequently, scientists had a scant four weeks to assemble Sputnik II, which did not leave enough time to conceive of a means of returning its canine occupant back to earth alive.[26]  Thus, when the Soviet scientists selected a dog for Sputnik II, they would do so with the full knowledge that it would be fatal mission. Several female dogs were put through a series of tests to determine which was most fit for space travel. These tests ranged from measures of obedience to physical examinations which saw the dogs placed in high-pressure chambers.[27] Laika was declared the most fit after these trials and was subjected to medical procedures which planted devices in her body to measure her vital signs and bodily movements.[28]   These invasive procedures, Amy Nelson suggests, reflected the categorization of Laika as a form of ‘biotechnology,’ as she was, “a living organism modified by humans to serve human ends.”[29] This made it all too easy for the Soviet scientists to send her into space without any plans to recover her alive as she was categorized as nothing more than an expendable piece of equipment.  However, as a ‘boundary object,’ several other categorizations of Laika persisted.  

Image 2: Official portrait of Laika

            Despite their best efforts, several Soviets found themselves emotionally attached to Laika.  This sentimental value would make moving forward with the mission an emotionally grueling process for these individuals. One handler, Vladimir Yazdovsky, claimed that he, “wanted to do something nice for the dog,” and brought her home to play with his children before her flight.[30]  Another admitted to having an emotional episode when it came time to bid Laika farewell.[31] This was not the first instance of Soviet scientists attributing sentimental feelings towards the dogs. In fact, a rumor made its way through the Soviet press prior to Laika’s flight that another one of the dogs in her testing group had actually performed better and ought to have been the one to fly in Sputnik II. According to this story, the other dog, Albina, was spared by Soviet scientists who had grown emotionally attached to her and her new-born litter of puppies.[32]  These glimpses of sentimental valuing of canine biotechnology demonstrate the permeability of human categorizations of these creatures. In the case of Soviet scientists, they walked a complicated line between regarding the dogs as laboratory subjects and acknowledging that they were living creatures. Amy Nelson suggests that this was reminiscent of Pavlov who struggled to balance, “the tension between his stance as a neutral scientist investigating indifferent, natural material and his involved even sentimental attachment to experimental subjects.”[33]  This discrepancy would become even more prominent after the dogs completed their missions, especially in the case of Laika.

            Laika’s flight and perishing offer a unique case study as she was both the first living creature to reach outer space and the only one to be intentionally sent to her doom.[34]  Thus, the various categorizations imposed on her by humankind are made all the more complex. To citizens and allies of the Soviet Union, she was a national hero whose service demonstrated the superiority of Russian space technology to the world and refuted any assumptions that the USSR was a ‘backward’ nation. In order to shape this public perspective of Laika, the Soviets relied heavily on anthropomorphism. To this effect, Laika was presented to the world in a press conference prior to her flight, during which she infamously earned her moniker by barking into the microphone (Laika means ‘Barker’ in Russian). She even posed for an official portrait prior to her flight.  In that photograph, released to the public while Sputnik II remained in orbit, her positioning is, “carefully calculated to convey a sense of the dog’s confidence and alertness.”[35]

Notably, Laika is wearing her space suit, which conjures a similar sense of professionalism and gravitas as is captured by military portraits.[36] This is a deliberate styling choice which seeks to present Laika as a new breed of soldier whose mission is imperative for the security of the nation. Implied in this conception of Laika as a soldier is her role as a national hero. This perception cannot be fully appreciated without the contextualization of the Cold War. This was a time in which a genuine and pervasive fear of nuclear oblivion existed in both the USSR and United States. In this context, the domination of space was not merely a matter of national pride, but in a very real sense, a matter of national security.  Thus, Laika’s sacrifice was framed as an action undertaken for the defense and prosperity of the Soviet Union giving her a legacy akin to other national heroes in the USSR. Like any great military hero, her likeness was reproduced throughout the Soviet Union on cigarettes, stamps, postcards, and all sorts of memorabilia.[37]

Image 3: Romanian stamp featuring Laika

Her legacy remains strong in Russia to this day with a notable news station, RT, publishing an article on the 60th anniversary of her death. The article titled, “Sacrifice for humanity: 60 years since heroic death of pioneering Soviet space dog Laika,” heaps on praise for the dog who undertook, “a doomed trip for the sake of future space travel.”[38]  For the Soviets, Laika was a brave soldier who sacrificed her life for the benefit of the union, an embodiment of Soviet technological and military superiority, and a national hero whose mission enhanced the security of the USSR.  

On the opposite side of the iron curtain, Laika was both the adorable puppy dog who was brutally sacrificed in the name of science and the single greatest threat to liberal democracy at that moment in time. The American public, which was especially beholden to dogs as a species, was concerned for the well-being of the poor Soviet puppy who was so far from home. In fact, the criticism from the West was so strong that the Soviet government felt obliged to insist, “The Russians love dogs. This has been done not for the sake of cruelty but for the benefit of humanity.”[39] This was hardly convincing to those concerned members of the American public, but there was little to be done about the matter once Laika was in orbit. As the Boston Globe reported, “while humane societies and dog lovers gasped, the little Russian laboratory dog took her place in history.”[40]   Despite the emotional response Laika provoked in America’s canine-loving population, the press and leading intellectuals struggled to determine how they ought to categorize the Soviet pup. An article in the Times took a comedic approach to reporting on Sputnik II, including cringe-inducing puns such as, “headlines yelped such barbaric new words as pupnik and pooch-nik, sputpup and woofnik,” and, “every dognik has its daynik,” which made light of the Soviet’s triumph and even the sacrifice of Laika, herself.[41]  On the other end the of the spectrum, some offered a more ominous perspective on Laika. Renown nuclear scientist Edward Teller bluntly stated in mid-November 1957, “[the Russians] will advance so fast in science and leave us so far behind that their way of doing things will be the way, and there will be nothing we can do about it.”[42]  For those who assumed Teller’s view of Laika’s flight, her mission was a devastating blow to the future of liberal democracy.  Laika, for them, demonstrated the superiority of the Soviet space program over that of the United States. The ability of the Soviets to send a living being into the cosmos gave rise to very real fears regarding their capability of launching missiles aimed at the United States into orbit.[43] Such a capability could allow the Soviets to wipe the United States, the beacon and proliferator of liberal democracy, from the face of the earth.  For those who recognized what a successful Soviet mission into space would mean for the future of democracy, Laika was no innocent puppy, but the embodiment of the single greatest threat to the free world since the defeat of fascism. Interestingly, Laika’s categorization in the United States changed with the time period. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, and the threat it posed to the superiority of the United States was neutralized that the dominant discourse on Laika became one of martyrdom and pity. This suggests that perceptions of Laika during the Cold War had less to do with the dignity of the dog herself and much more to do with the nation and ideology she unwittingly personified. This emphasis on what the animals represented over their worth as living beings would continue for the duration of the Cold War.

Able and Baker

“Able/Baker perfect. No injuries or other difficulties,” was the radio message sent by Navy frogmen on May 25th, 1959. In that moment, a seven-pound rhesus monkey and a one pound squirrel monkey became national heroes. The press conference following their successful mission would further cement Able and Baker in the pages of history, and their likenesses would grace the cover of every prominent publication in the United States. The Chicago Daily Tribune lauded the monkeys and reported that the press conference was worse than any part of their space mission.[44] The Los Angeles Times dubbed them, “the world’s most famous females,”[45] and the Washington Post declared them “VIMs” (very important monkeys).[46] Life magazine dedicated a spread to their press conference in which they categorized Able and Baker as “space heroes.”[47]

Image 4: Able shortly after landing being removed from capsule.

            The celebrity of Able and Baker was due in large part to their branding as national heroes and the anthropomorphism which bolstered that categorization. Before the completion of their mission, Able and Baker were viewed largely as scientific test subjects. In fact, their names were simply the first two letters of the old phonetic alphabet, making them equivalent to Monkey A and Monkey B. This was done intentionally to minimize any sentimental attachment to either subject.[48] Additionally, scientists were so determined to use monkeys despite the risks it held for those animals that they navigated through significant red tape in order to use them for that purpose. One such challenge was the opposition to the use of monkeys in dangerous experimentation by the American public. The indignation of animal rights advocates following the death of Gordo the previous year was so strong that President Eisenhower mandated that all future flights involving live animals be personally approved by him to avoid such backlash.[49]  It was only after being presented with 4:1 odds that Able and Baker would return safely that he approved the mission.[50] Another complication, was the cultural implications attached to certain breeds of monkey. In India, the rhesus monkey was highly revered.[51]  Because India remained, thus far, unaligned in the Cold War, preserving positive relations with that nation was of the utmost importance to the United States. Therefore, it was decided that the rhesus monkey utilized in this mission had to be one bred and born in the United States as to avoid giving any offense. Thus, the selection of Able and Baker was one that came about through an extensive review of various scientific and political considerations. Yet, the rights of the actual animals involved was given little to no consideration which demonstrates their apparent lack of value as autonomous creatures. Interestingly, this value as individuals would skyrocket upon their return to earth.

            The successful mission of Able and Baker was a moment of great pride for the United States’ space program which, until this time, had lagged far behind that of the Soviet Union. As such, the United States was eager to capitalize on the mission and the two tiny monkeys which came to embody it. Similar to the Soviet Union, the United States was guilty of anthropomorphizing its interstellar non-human animals. Almost as soon as they returned to earth, Able and Baker were whisked off to a press conference in Washington D.C. where they were subjected to an onslaught of photo ops. Adding further to this relative absurdity, Able and Baker were transported to said conference via military detail.[52]  The degree of fanfare which Able and Baker received was nearly on par with that which the human astronauts who followed them would experience. The anthropomorphizing did not stop with the American government as even the press would adopt this practice. The Washington Post proclaimed Able and Baker, “the nation’s first space veterans,” and, “heroine[s] of rocket flight.”[53] The Chicago Daily Tribune attributed certain characteristics to the monkeys that would rarely ever be applied to non-human animals. Able was described as, “pale and bewildered,” while Baker was called, “more ladylike,” and deemed, “a doll.”[54]  

Image 5: Able and Baker aboard the USS Kiowa which retrieved them after their successful flight.

            The anthropomorphizing of Able and Baker was not an accident. The United States government and its space program were desperately in need of good press by 1959. Not only was the history-making flight of Laika still fresh in the world’s mind, but Americans’ support for their own program had declined due to the death of Gordo, a squirrel monkey, only a year prior.  Gordo had returned to earth alive, but was lost at sea and presumed dead. His death caused a considerable deal of protest from organizations such as the ASPCA and the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.[55]  Thus, trailing behind the Soviet Union and facing a maelstrom of controversy, the United States desperately needed the success of Able and Baker in order to justify the continued use of animals in space testing. As such, Able and Baker were anthropomorphized in order to endear them with a greater value than was typically possible for non-human animals which in turn allowed them to achieve a greater celebrity status.

            It was a celebrity which would continue even after their deaths. Able would be the first of the duo to pass away.  Shortly after her return to earth, one of the electrodes which had been implanted in her skin was discovered to be infected. Doctors made the decision to remove it in a procedure which should have been quick, low-risk, and painless. Able, however, would die on the operating table due to the impact of anesthesia.[56]   Her death was covered by a spread in Life magazine which included graphic photographs of doctors performing all manner of maneuvers (including mouth-to-mouth) in a vain attempt to revive her.[57]  When all efforts failed, it was decided that she be taxidermied for permanent display at the Smithsonian.[58]  Had she lived, Able would have shared a similar fate to Baker who spent the rest of her life ‘answering’ fan-mail, appearing on television, and being observed at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.[59]  Upon her death, Baker was entombed in Huntsville, Alabama where a pillar commemorates the final resting place of ‘Miss. Baker’ the first American monkey to travel to space and return alive.[60] Her burial site is still frequented by tourists, many of whom have taken to placing bananas at the site as a token of respect.[61]  In both cases, the monkeys would continue to serve human purposes after their deaths. As Jordan Bimm (from York University) elaborates,

Once Able’s value as a scientific instrument unexpectedly ended, humans found new uses for her… Stuffed and on display, Able continues to serve as an unwilling representative of the U.S. space program, silently vouching for the inherent value and moral imperative in pursuing space science.”[62]

 The same could be said for Baker, whose final resting place is no arbitrary location, but rather a fixture of the U.S Space and Rocket Center. This is a testament to the lack of independent value these monkeys held. Able and Baker were so devoid of autonomy that nearly any location which might serve as an appropriate final resting place for them was inherently tied to a laboratory or noteworthy site pertaining to space exploration.  Thus, not only were the duration of their lives dominated by the desires of human beings, but even their deaths were utilized for human ends.


            “Dear Mr. Chairman,” reads the letter dated June 21, 1961, “Mrs. Kennedy and I were particularly pleased to receive ‘Pushinka’. Her flight from the Soviet Union to the United States was not as dramatic as the flight of her mother, nevertheless, it was a long voyage and she stood it well. We both appreciate your remembering these matters in your busy life.”[63]  The source of this amicable exchange was an adorable mutt with a snow-colored coat and pointed ears aptly named Pushinka, which translates to ‘Fluffy’ in Russian.  She came with her very own passport which lists her mother as Strelka, one of the two dogs who successfully traveled to and returned from space.[64]

Image 6: Pushinka’s Passport (I’m not kidding)

The American press was surprisingly receptive to the Soviet transplant. A special to the New York Times announced her arrival on June 20th and affectionately described her as, “little Pushinka, the puppy,” and detailed how she was introduced to another one of the Kennedy dogs, Charley, who, “has a big size advantage, but … seemed hospitable.”[65]  Another article written about Pushinka describes how the White House was specifically modified to accommodate the tiny dog. The article, which describes how an additional fence needed to be installed to accommodate the dog’s tiny stature,  proclaims that Pushinka, “now has her own iron curtain,” before lightheartedly relaying, “the ducks that cruised the White House pond have been moved to winter quarters, out of harm’s way, and Pushinka now has the run of the back yard.”[66]  Given the exceptionally high tensions of the Cold War, it is surprising that the American press was so willing to cover Pushinka’s romping with such light-heartedness at the same time that is was lambasting her home country. Even the American public grew to love Pushinka, despite her ancestry. When ‘Fluffy’ had a litter of puppies with another one of the Kennedy’s dogs, Charlie, nearly 5,000 Americans wrote letters to request one of the new dogs.[67] Thus, it appears as though the perception of Pushinka as a part of the Kennedy family triumphed over any ill-will towards her nation of origin, at least as far as the American pubic was concerned.

The perception of Pushinka within the White House, however, was more complicated. The first-children were the easiest to win over, but not without a minor bump in the road. When Caroline Kennedy was first presented with Pushinka, the pup growled at her, prompting the first daughter to give ‘Fluffy’ a swift kick in its hindquarters by means of reprimand.[68] When told of this incident, an amused President Kennedy reportedly replied, “That’s giving it to those damn Russians.”[69] 

Image 7: Pushinka and her ‘pupniks,’ as President Kennedy called them.

This light-hearted but loaded statement was emblematic of the Kennedy-Khrushchev relationship. While their messages became more personal after the exchange of Pushinka, historian Martin Sandler insists, “one-upmanship goes throughout the whole correspondence.”[70]  Pushinka herself was a subtle demonstration of Soviet superiority, due to her infamous parentage.  Her mother, Strelka, was one of two dogs to be sent into space and returned alive for the first time in human history. Kennedy was immensely tuned in to the on goings of the Space Race and Strelka’s success would have been something of a sore spot for him.  Thus, having her offspring romping around the White House retained some semblance of animosity that no level of cuteness could fully eradicate.  Yet, Pushinka’s cute factor did go a long way to endearing the President towards her, and, to an extent, the man who gave her away. Khrushchev’s son, Sergei, believes that the improved relations between his father and President Kennedy to have been the primary motivation behind the gifting of Pushinka. Sergei Khrushchev recalls his father’s desire for increased communication with Kennedy via Pushinka as he, “thought it would be pleasant for the family and good for politics.”[71] By and large, this goal was achieved just before one of the most pivotal moments in the Cold War. Shortly after Pushinka’s arrival in the United States, the Cuban Missile Crisis came to the fore. The personal correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev had established a relationship which would be pivotal in the negotiations which followed.[72]  Ultimately, Pushinka was far more than a cute playmate for the Kennedy children. She was a bridge between Khrushchev and Kennedy at a time when their personal relationship was all that prevented the world from collapsing into nuclear war.[73]


            “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”[74] –  Soviet scientist Oleg Gazenko discussing Laika, 1998.

            Theirs is a legacy written in the stars. The space race animals live on in museums, monuments, band names, children’s books, documentaries, editorials, and a plethora of other outlets. Yet, not a single one chose this fate.  As concerned citizen Carole Warburg Rothschild wrote in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, “the courageous astronauts, who willingly undertake high risks, can at least choose to participate or not in these voyages.”[75] Non-human animals, on the other hand, were incapable of providing consent and were used nonetheless in dangerous and often deadly experimentation. Their sacrifices shed light on the way in which humans perceive the value of other non-human animals. A common justification for the use of animals in space testing is the rationale that their sacrifice would make extraterrestrial travel safer for human beings. In the same Life article which claimed, “Able’s death was but a minor tragedy in the grand design of man’s march into space,” it was asserted that, “animal experimentations are the necessary fore-runners of human space travel.”[76] Indeed the same rationale was given by the Soviets who justified Laika’s flight as a vital sacrifice, “for the benefit of humanity.”[77] In both cases, the desire for human progress was considered to be of greater value than any infringement upon the autonomy of the animals in question. This was not only true for their time as test subjects, but for the entirety of their lives. Those who were lucky enough to survive were paraded in front of the press, studied for years after their return, and used as political leverage.

Image 8: Ham and Human, hand in hand (1961)

            The Cold War is so named because the tensions between the United States and the USSR never reached the point of direct military conflict[78], however, it still produced a myriad of victims. Often, when scholars look at the proxy altercations brought on by this superpower rivalry they discuss Iran or Afghanistan, but one ought to include outer space in that conglomerate. The Space Race was indeed a battleground of immense importance, and the bulk of its victims were the non-human animals whose sacrifices are too often glossed over. The entire menagerie of Space Race animals gave their lives (to varying degrees) to a war which had nothing to do with them. They were selected by humans, used in place of humans, and sacrificed for human ends. If even their legacy must serve mankind, it ought to do so as a warning. A warning as to just how dangerously inhumane humanity can be when it ignores the inherent dignity in our fellow animals.  


  • [1] Lulu Morris, “Animals Lost In Space,” National Geographic, October 04, 2017, accessed November 17, 2018,
  • [2] Sarah Zielinski, “A Brief History of Animal Death in Space,” Science News, September 08, 2014, accessed November 18, 2018,
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Amy Nelson, “The Cold War Celebrity and the Courageous Canine Scout: The Life and Times of Soviet Space Dogs,” in Into the Cosmos: Space Exploration and Soviet Culture, ed. James T. Andrews and Asif A. Siddiqi (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011),134, accessed November 21, 2018, JSTOR.
  • [7] “The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1904,”, accessed November 18, 2018,
  • [8] Paul Lagasse, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 8th ed. (Columbia University Press, 2018), s.v. “Vivisection,” accessed November 21, 2018, Credo Reference.
  • [9] Susan B. Jones, “Pricing the Priceless Pet,” in Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and Their Patients in Modern America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
  • [10] Ibid,126.
  • [11] Tara Gray, NASA, August 2, 2004, accessed October 18, 2018,
  • [12] Amy Nelson, “The Cold War Celebrity and the Courageous Canine Scout.”
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] Amy Nelson, “The Cold War Celebrity and the Courageous Canine Scout,” 134.
  • [16] Jones, Priceless Pet, 117.
  • [17] Ibid,118.
  • [18] Ibid,118.
  • [19] Katarina Damjanov and David Crouch, “Global Media Cultures Among the Stars: Formations of Celebrity in Outer Space,” International Journal of Cultural Studies 21, no. 5 (September 2018):577, accessed November 18, 2018, EBSCOhost.
  • [20] Ibid, 555-556.
  • [21] Alex Wellerstein, “Remembering Laika, Space Dog and Soviet Hero,” The New Yorker, November 03, 2017, accessed November 07, 2018,
  • [22] Alice George, “The Sad, Sad Story of Laika, the Space Dog, and Her One-Way Trip into Orbit,”, April 11, 2018, , accessed November 07, 2018,
  • [23] Tara Gray, NASA, August 2, 2004, accessed October 18, 2018,
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  • [51] Ibid, ibid.
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  • [71] Ibid.
  • [72] Ibid.
  • [73] Ibid; Oleg Yegorov, “Pushinka the Dog.”
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