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The author of this page will appreciate comments, corrections and imagery related to the subject. Please contact Anatoly Zak.


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Bion program


Rocket dogs

The Soviet scientists first entered then novel field of space biology by launching dogs on converted ballistic missiles, such as R-1, R-2 and R-5.

 

Previous chapter: R-1 missile

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Above: Historic drawings of the Soviet "geophysical rockets" and their payload sections shown to the same scale. (Click red arrows to toggle the view). Credit: RKK Energia


 

Rocket dogs

The very first Soviet long-range missile -- the R-1 -- became a basis for five versions of the so-called "geophysical" rockets designated according to the Russian alphabet: R-1A, R-1B, R-1V, R-1D and R-1E. Four latter modifications in this family were equipped with a progressively sophisticated detachable head section ranging in mass from 650 to 760 kilograms and featuring a two-seat cabin for dogs.

The dog cabin included a pair of removable trays holding the animal, recording sensors and the life-support system made of three tanks for the air mixture. A special chemical was used to absorb the CO2. In some flights, dogs would also wear custom-made spacesuits.

The original goal of these dog missions was to prove the very possibility for a live organism to survive rocket launch, flight and landing. Sergei Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau in Podlipki near Moscow started work in the field around 1948 and the Soviet government apparently approved the project on Dec. 30, 1949. The first launches with dogs onboard took place in Kapustin Yar either in 1950 or 1951.

By September 1951, Anatoly Blagonravov, the head of the State Commission overseeing the project, had already reported that out of six launches of the 1-RB rocket (a.k.a. R-1B) four vehicles successfully returned live animals after lifting them up to 100 kilometers into the stratosphere. (473) Two initial flights apparently resulted in the loss of dogs due to problems with the soft-landing system. (638)

According to the Institute of Medical Problems of Spaceflight, IMBP, in Moscow, from 1951 to 1960, a total of 34 rockets carried dogs, as well as mice and rabbits to altitudes from 100 to 473 kilometers, while accelerating up to 4,200 kilometers per hour. A total of 59 dogs experienced from 3.7 to 10 minutes of weightlessness (20 minutes according to one source (637)), before ejecting at altitudes of 100, 80 or 60 kilometers and returning to the ground with a soft-landing system. These experiments aimed to prove that it would be possible for future pilots of rockets to eject safely at various altitudes. (84)

The deceleration process would start 3-5 minutes after the launch subjecting animals to loads of up to 8 g at the moment of parachute opening. Some dogs made two flights and a female dog named Otvazhnaya (Brave) was launched five times. During the flights, sensors recorded a heartbeat, electrocardiogram, blood pressure, skin temperature, breath frequency and general behavior. These measurements showed that dogs were mostly affected by rocket dynamics, while no radiation effects were detected.

Like the rest of the Soviet space program, bio-research flights remained top-secret for years. First publications on the subject in the open press were allowed in 1958, however all key authors of published scientific papers were disguised under aliases: V. N. Chernigovsky as V. N. Chernov, O. G. Gadzenko as O. G. Gorlov, V. I. Yazdovsky as V. I. Yakovlev, A. M. Genin as A. M. Galkin, A. R. Kotovskaya as A. R. Kotova. Space biologists were finally able to publish papers under their real names beginning in 1962, following the triumphant missions of Vostok and Vostok-2. (637)

Exhibit

A part of the exhibit in Kapustin Yar for the Soviet government officials, which was likely held from July 22 to July 24, 1960, showing Soviet dog-carrying rockets. First few photographs in the series were published in 1999, the rest were released in May 2016.

Palma

Dogs Palma (left) and Kusachka with the nose section of the R-2V rocket on the background.

pestraya

Dog Pestraya (Motley) backdropped by the retrieved nose section of an R-5V research rocket, which carried the animal into the stratosphere.


 

APPENDIX

Summary of Soviet rocket launches with dogs and other animals onboard (637):

Rocket
Maximum altitude
Launch date
Number of launches
Duration of weightlessness

100-110 kilometers

1951
4

3.7 minutes

R-1V

-

1951
2

-

R-1D
-
1954
3
-
R-1E
-
1955
3
-
R-1E
-
May-June 1956
3
-
R-2A
212 kilometers
1957
5
6 minutes
-
-
1958
2
-
-
-
1959
2
-
-
-
1960
2
-
R-5A
450-473 kilometers
1958
3
10 minutes

 

Next chapter: Laika's mission

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: May 17, 2016

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Dog catapult

The catapult enabled safe return of a dog after a suborbital flight on a high-altitude research rocket. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


Dog spacesuit

"Spacesuit" which protected dogs in suborbital flights onboard high-altitude research rockets during the 1950s. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2005 Anatoly Zak


Rocket dog

The founder of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev with one of the dogs launched on rockets in Kapustin Yar.


Geo

A launch of the "geophysical" version of the R-1 rocket.


R-1

A geophysical rocket, most likely R-1D or E, on the launch pad in Kapustin Yar.


rocket

A geophysical rocket, most likely R-2A, on the launch pad in Kapustin Yar.


Belka

Dogs Belka and Kusachka in the cabin of the rocket.


Cabin

The payload section of the rocket that carried dog after landing.


Landing

The payload section of the rocket that carried dog after landing.


Head section

Head section

A head section of the rocket and its dog passenger on the ground after landing. A "display" position of the hatch near the cabin and the presence of dog reveal that photographs were set up after landing.


R-2A

A scale model of the R-2A rocket. Copyright © 2011 Anatoly Zak