We were born to make fairy tales come true.
Author: Olesya Turkina
I found this book by chance in the Russian bookshop at Waterstones Piccadilly. They say we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but Soviet Space Dogs immediately stood out to me. Despite being a bit on the pricey side, it is such a quaint little book. Author Olesya Turkina is a Senior Research Fellow at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, and her knowledge shines through this volume. Much like a museum exhibit, this reads like an informative piece packed with facts and pictures all pieced together by a stunning design.
The subject matter was somewhat hard to swallow. The name ‘Laika’ (which, coincidentally, was not her only name) resonates strongly in popular culture; however, most details remained unknown until 2002. These stray dogs roamed the streets of Moscow and were deemed as worthy candidates for the space program as long as they met certain criteria (weight, size, sex, being photogenic, etc.). On the other hand, their lack of background gave Soviet ideology enough room to make up the rest of their stories as they saw fit. Ultimately, these four-legged cosmonauts served their purpose as symbols of Soviet ideology, heroes willing to sacrifice themselves to fulfill our life-long dream of space exploration and endless thirst for knowledge. Unlike their human counterparts, none of them volunteered or gave their consent to the inhumane tests they were forced to endure. Truthfully, even though Soviet Propaganda had successfully turned Laika’s story into a fairy tale, her death neither was justified nor deterred scientists from conducting further experiments.
Other dogs mentioned in this book include Belka and Strelka, which achieved fame during their lifetime and cast a new light to space exploration. While Soviet ideology celebrated their acts of heroism, others raised their concerns for the well-being of these animals. Fortunately, with the fall of the USSR, higher mammals were no longer being sent into orbit.
Despite its occasional lack of narrative structure, I think this book is a fair and well-deserved rendition of the sad lives led by these dogs. I was also surprised to find out that the details of Laika’s tragic demise had not been revealed until relatively recently.