CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 11/6/2014
Congratulations FUEL Publishing! It's not often that one of our books gets a major review in the Science Section of "The New York Times." But this one certainly deserves it! Dana Jennings writes, "There are two reasons I couldn’t resist this book. First, I was born on Oct. 5, 1957, one day after the Soviet Union slingshotted the first satellite, Sputnik, into space. So I’m a true space age baby who grew up obsessed with the Cold War grudge match to reach the moon. Second, I was a kid during the golden age of the half-hour dog drama: television series like “Lassie,” “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” and “The Littlest Hobo.” If there had been a show called “Space Dogs,” I would have been planted in front of the screen, tongue contentedly lolling."
Jennings continues, "And in the Soviet Union, in a sense, there was such a televised spectacle. As Olesya Turkina, a research fellow at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, writes in “Soviet Space Dogs,” an image-stuffed book: “These dogs are the characters in a fairy tale that was created in the U.S.S.R.: They are the martyrs and saints of communism.”
Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, these canine cosmonauts — Laika and Mishka, Belka and Strelka, and many others — were strays plucked from the streets and alleys of Moscow, trained at the Institute of Aviation Medicine, then vaulted toward the heavens. As the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin — sounding a bit Zen for 1961 — is said to have joked, “Am I the first human in space, or the last dog?”
When the Soviet scientists rounded up strays, they sought small, feisty dogs who could withstand the punishing preparation and, they hoped, the rigors of spaceflight. Many dogs died, and even those who lived paid a price. “The lucky ones lived out their days in the laboratory,” Ms. Turkina writes, “where devoted attendants would chew bits of (hard-to-find) sausage before feeding it to the dogs who had lost their teeth in the battle to colonize space.”
The star here, the genuine alpha dog, is Laika (“Barker”), who on Nov. 3, 1957, became the first earthborn creature to reach outer space. She didn’t survive the flight on Sputnik 2, suffocated by heat, but in death became a global phenomenon, canonized as a symbol of patriotic sacrifice.
Belka (Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow) made the next significant leap in August 1960, spending a day in orbit and living to wag their tails about it. “Following their triumphant landing, they appeared on radio and television, and their portraits were featured in newspapers and magazines,” Ms. Turkina writes. They even met and were hugged by the superstar American pianist Van Cliburn, and the doughty Strelka went on to have a litter of six puppies. (It is not believed that she became pregnant aboard Sputnik 5.)
Thus Belka and Strelka, along with Laika, were well on their way to becoming Russian icons, four-legged proof that the Soviet way was superior to the American. “These dogs were the pioneers for humankind,” Ms. Turkina writes. “Not only for the idea of the single hero, but crucially, for all humanity.”
The Soviet public couldn’t get enough of photographs of their beloved dogs, in rockets, oxygen masks and space helmets. But even in that citadel of communism, quick-buck artists made money off Laika, Belka and Strelka, putting the dogs’ heroic images on anything that couldn’t move, including candy bars, postcards, stamps, pins and the inevitable commemorative plates.
You could even smoke a Laika cigarette as you read a Belka and Strelka storybook to your children."
Clth, 5 x 8 in. / 240 pgs / 350 color.