During the 195 -1960s, the Soviet Union used dogs for sub-orbital and orbital space flights to test if human spaceflight was possible. Space dogs were stray mutts found on the streets of Moscow. 51 years ago, on August 19, 1960, two dogs named Belka ("Squirrel" in Russian) and Strelka ("Little Arrow") spent a day in space aboard Sputnik-5 and orbited the Earth 18 times before returning home. They were the first Earth-born creatures to go into orbit and return alive. Belka and Strelka were accompanied by a grey rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats, flies and a number of plants and fungi. All of them made it back to Earth. Only 8 months later, on April12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to go to space thanks to the many space dogs that paved the way.
Here is a curious and romantic story, especially considering the times. Strelka went on to have 6 puppies. Nikita Khrushchev gave one of Strelka's pups to President John F. Kennedy's daughter Caroline in 1961 as a diplomatic gesture. The puppy was named Pushinka ("Fluffy"). Some people justifiably worried about hidden microphones inside the dog, but the president decided to spare her life. Pushinka took a liking to a Kennedy's dog Charlie. Pushinka and Charlie were oblivious to the Cold War tensions between USSR and USA and produced 4 pups that JFK jokingly referred to as pupniks. A pair of pupniks was given away to children in the Midwest. The other two stayed with the Kennedy family for a while, but were later given away to family friends.