by: Aaron George Bailey
Sherwood, Arkansas USA
This Web Page was created on October 4, 2007
Life at the Institute for Aviation and Space Medicine was considerably improved over life on the streets
with no more competing with other strays for scraps of food and no more dodging cars or trying to find a
warm place to sleep.  LAIKA, (pronounced "LYE-kuh") was a small stray who was nabbed off the streets of
Moscow.  She was one of the homeless canines selected by the institute for use in space research.  This
group of mixed breed dogs underwent evaluation and training for the challenge of space flight by being
subjected to various tests.  Rocket dog training involved conditioning related to vibration, noise, lengthy
confinement and restricted movement within small capsules.  
Aerospace researchers in America mainly
used chimps and small monkeys for test subjects.  But Soviet researchers felt that street dogs were best
suited for the rigors of space flight because they were already conditioned to a tough hard life and in
general they were patient and easily trained.
(9A)  Laika, a part-Samoyed terrier, was a new arrival at the
institute. She had a good nature
and tried hard to please her new human masters.  When approached by a trainer
she would timidly raise her paw as if wanting to shake hands.
Soon she answered to her nickname, "Little Curly (Kudryavka)," as the training staff affectionately called
(3C)  Life at the institute wasn't all work.  Laika's happy time was spent frolicking with her new pals in a huge
exercise pen.  Playing "keep away" with a rag was her game of choice. Puppy like she would run around the enclosure
with the rag streaming in the wind, teasing the other dogs until she had the whole pack chasing after her. Usually the
pursuit would climax in a
tug-of-war contest, over who got the rag.  Assessment over a period of time proved her
to be adaptable with a calm nature, two important traits for a potential space dog.  Scientists needed calm
test subjects in order to get meaningful data on the effects of rapidly changing acceleration rates and
weightlessness and how these extreme conditions affected  living organisms.  Zoologists studied the
dogs behavior and classified them into three groups. In the first group were the even-tempered dogs,
such as Laika, whose movements were moderate. In the second were the restless ones, whose motor
reactions were intense, and lastly the third group were made up of the sluggish ones.
(9A)  It was the 1950s
and both the Soviet Union and America competed against each other by pushing the development of
higher faster jet aircraft and rocket technology. The fruit of this research quickly found its way into military
applications and further fueled the ongoing arms race between the two superpowers.  Supersonic high
altitude flight research called for trained biological test subjects which made the Soviet Unions rocket
dogs a national asset. A considerable amount of time and energy went into their training.  For advanced
study it was necessary for the dogs to be fitted with instrumentation so their vital functions could be
monitored. Upon passing the rookie stage
some rocket dogs underwent a simple surgical procedure which
allowed researchers to observe their blood pressure (BP) changes during stressful testing.  The result of this
surgery was
an exposed loop of skin covered artery running along the side of the neck.  This would look like a
loose flap of skin through which the artery ran.  The long neck of dogs such as Laika made exposing of this
carotid artery quite easy.  This artery loop was about two inches long and had enough slack to allow a
hinged cylinder to be clipped around it.  Within this cylinder was housed a small slice of quartz crystal. Also
sandwiched between this crystal sensor and the artery was a tiny balloon which was inflated and deflated
periodically just like what humans experience during BP checks at the Doctors office.  When inflated the tiny
balloon allowed the blood pressure of the artery to squeeze the tiny crystal sensor and stimulate it to put out a
small electrical signal.
(1)  This piezoelectric effect, as it is called in electronics, made the crystal put out
different voltages for different blood pressure readings.  In this manner BP data was converted into
electrical impulses and could be sent by wire or radio telemetry to a remote collection point for analysis.  
Dogs are social animals requiring interaction with humans and other dogs and a certain amount of play
was important for their well-being.  However, handlers had to carefully supervise playtime to guard
against rough wrestling and playful biting behavior which could rupture the exposed neck artery.  The
rocket dogs wore either a protective collar or sometimes a special garment that looked like a turtleneck
sweater with a bunched up neck cuff which helped to protect the exposed artery from scratching and
rough activity.  Laika maintained an even temperament through it all.  As with the other dogs, her biggest
challenge was overcoming the fear of confinement within a small capsule.  To condition her out of this
fear, trainers used a modified replica of what would become the Sputnik 2 capsule.  This practice capsule
was so designed, that it was separated into a lower and upper half.  Firstly,
Laika was taught to lay in the
lower one half containing her box, life support and other equipment.  As her adaptation curve increased, the
upper half, a shell like cover, was moved forward over her head in small steps over time, until she was comfortable
being totally inside the small barrel size cabin.
 Similar long duration training had her confined to smaller and
smaller cages for extended periods of time until she could endure 15 to 20 days of such unnatural
(2)  Initially, untrained dogs would protest by barking and whining when subjected to long
confinement, and they would not urinate nor release solid wastes which made them restless and caused
their general condition to decay.  Laxatives were even tried, with no results, and only forced conditioning
through a series of long training sessions proved to solve the problem. Being wired with biomedical
sensors and wearing space garments became a way of life for Laika.
She grew accustomed to eating a
special food/water mix in jelly form. (2)  Jellied food was preferred on orbit since solid food could crumble
into pieces and float free around the cabin where it might be inhaled or interfere with equipment.  She
also learned to take additional water by licking a wet sponge.
(1A)  In advanced training she was sealed
inside a pressurized capsule that was mounted on a
shake table and then she would be subjected to a
range of vibration and bombarded with recorded sounds which mimicked a rocket launch.
(2)  Other
conditioning involved
high G centrifuge runs and airplane rides to familiarize her with the sensations of
(9A) Laika would come out of such simulations with her tail wagging and a smile in her eyes, as if to tell
everyone, "Look, I withstood the test of fire."  She had the right canine stuff and became a top space dog candidate in
Dogs Training on a Small Centrifuge