Almanac: Dogs in space

And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: August 20, 1960 -- 57 years ago today -- a date that gives new meaning to the expression "dog days of summer."

Moscow region. USSR. Soviet space dogs Strelka and Belka after a successful space flight. Photo TASS / Nikolai Sitnikov; Sergei Preobrazhensky . - . / /
Soviet space dogs Strelka and Belka after a successful space flight in 1960. ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy

For that was the day space dogs Belka and Strelka returned alive after orbiting the Earth for a day in a Soviet spacecraft.

Belka and Strelka were female strays recruited for space travel on the theory that street dogs were a tougher breed than those pampered house pets.

Belka and Strelka had the right stuff all right, becoming the first canine cosmonauts to survive an orbital space flight -- clearing the way for Yuri Gagarin to become the first human cosmonaut the following April.

Belka and Strelka never left Earth again. Strelka famously went on to give birth to a litter of puppies, one of whom was given to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as a goodwill gift.  

Kennedy Dog Pushinka
Pushinka, offspring of Soviet space dog Stelka, sits outside her adopted home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. William J. Smith/AP

When THAT dog gave birth, President Kennedy playfully labeled her offspring "pupniks."

Russia honors the memory of Belka and Strelka to this day.

The animated movie feature "Space Dogs," released in 2010, tells their story.

And the REAL Belka and Strelka are still on view -- stuffed, alas -- beside their space capsule at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow.

belka-strelka-museum-of-cosmonautics-moscow-google-620.jpg
The stuffed remains of Belka and Strekla, on display next to the capsule in which they flew into outer space, at the Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow. Google

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