Space Dogs: Meet the Cosmic Canines of Soviet Design

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Print has been acquired by an independent group of collaborators—Deb Aldrich, Laura Des Enfants, Jessica Deseo, Andrew Gibbs, Steven Heller and Debbie Millman—and soon enough, we’ll be back in full force with an all-new look and a fresh outlook for the future. In the meantime, we’re publishing some pieces that have been patiently waiting in the editorial wings during the transition. Enjoy.

There’s always a wonderland of new books floating around the Print offices—so many, in fact, that we’re not always able to cover all the best ones. Given the sheer quality of design books of late, we’ve decided to make an effort to rectify that with a dedicated column—which we jokingly dubbed the “Print Book Club” as a placeholder … and now officially dub the “Print Book Club” because we’ve grown attached to it.

Our goal is simple: to share exclusive excerpts from a medley of new or upcoming titles that we love.

First up is Space Dogs: The Story of the Celebrated Canine Cosmonauts by Martin Parr and Richard Hollingham.

As the official copy goes, “In the 1950s the space race between the USA and the USSR was well and truly on, and was for both a matter of pride and propaganda. But before man ventured into the cosmos, his four-legged friends would pave the way for space exploration.

“The first canine cosmonaut was Laika, meaning barker. The little stray could never have anticipated that she would one day float 200 miles above the Moscow streets. She would be canonized as a proletarian hero, appearing on stamps, postcards and souvenirs. Her successors were Belka and Strelka, the first dogs to successfully return safely to Earth, and with them, the cult of the space dog was born.

“This fascinating book tells the story of the space dogs, illustrated with legendary photographer Martin Parr’s vintage space-dog memorabilia. In a regime that eschewed celebrating individual achievement, these dogs became Soviet superstars, with a vast array of merchandise, books and films in their honor.”

Here, we present Parr’s intro, and some of our favorite extra-planetary pups.

From the first moment I saw a piece of space dog ephemera I was hooked. It’s such a great story. Russia was winning the space race that was taking place against the backdrop of the Cold War. Stray dogs were being plucked off the streets of Moscow and trained for space missions. Quite how this process was undertaken has always been a mystery to me.

Laika was the first dog to orbit the Earth, but she sadly perished on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This fact was somewhat obscured by the Russian space agency for decades, as they did not want the mission to be viewed as a failure. But Laika’s demise did not hinder the advent of the space dog memorabilia industry. Russia needed heroes, and Laika—and later Belka and Strelka—fulfilled this role perfectly.

The amount and variety of space dog ephemera that was produced is mind-boggling. Clocks, cigarette cases, ornaments and myriad dog-related items helped to validate Russia as the superior power in the Cold War.

If the response to the supposed triumph of Laika was extraordinary, things really ramped up to a whole new level with Belka and Strelka. Not only did these dogs survive the ordeal of orbiting space, but they could also be paraded and photographed upon their return, and thus became the new national heroes.

Russian society was not accustomed to the heroes and superstars that we are used to seeing in the West, and the space dogs easily fitted into this new role. Perhaps a useful way to really understand the impact that they had on Russian society is to draw a parallel with The Beatles or Mickey Mouse, those Western icons that generated huge quantities of memorabilia.

After Belka and Strelka, other dogs went into space but the momentum slowed, yet this notorious pair of stray dogs became icons of the whole space dogs program.

So how did I come across all of the material in my collection? Apart from picking up some items of space dog memorabilia in the famous Moscow flea markets, my main source has been the internet, and over the past 20 years regular searches have unearthed many items for the collection.

My quest was consolidated when I connected with Natalie, an eBay seller who would always have extremely good space dog items on offer. These have been posted to me and even collected, via a third party, on one of my many visits to Moscow. These days I continue to trawl the internet, but most objects I own already, or they don’t really excite me, so what you see in the following pages is the sum total of a 20-year obsession. I hope that some of the magic of the space dogs phenomenon will rub off on the reader.

—Martin Parr

Desk clock featuring Laika, with the planets in the background.

Blown-glass commemorative ornament showing Laika at the feet of a soaring Sputnik 2.

Laika cigarettes produced under supervision of the Ministry of Food Industry. Introduced in 1957, the brand was finally discontinued in the 1990s.

Porcelain commemorative plate. The inscription reads, “Laika, the first traveler in space.”

Belka and Strelka wall clocks with various displays featuring pressure and temperature gauges.

“Belyanka and Pyostraya in the Rocket,” a 1961 Russian children’s book by writer V.Borozdin, describing the work of the Soviet space dogs.

Handmade and handprinted wooden nesting Matryoshka d

Hand-painted Gzhel porcelain decanter depicting Belka and Strelka peering from their rocket portholes.

Night lamps from the 1960s, featuring Dimitrovsky porcelain figurines and toy cosmonaut figures.

Desktop display model featuring Chernushka, whose orbital flight aboard Sputnik 9 was made with cosmonaut mannequin “Ivan Ivanovich.”

Excerpted from Space Dogs: The Story of the Celebrated Canine Cosmonauts by Martin Parr and Richard Hollingham. Copyright © 2019 by Martin Parr and Richard Hollingham. Excerpted by permission of Laurence King Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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