Belka and Strelka

I've recently started an ongoing series of children's illustrations of famous animals from history. I love it when a story is weird and improbable and yet 100% real. Nonfiction is really exciting to me for that reason. Anthropomorphized animals are also a trope in children's writing and illustration, so I'm enjoying finding actual cases of animals doing human tasks, even wearing human clothes. First up are Belka and Strelka, two Soviet space dogs. Here's a little blurb I wrote about them:


Belka (“Whitey”) and Strelka (“Little Arrow”) launched into orbit aboard the Korabl-Sputnik 2 Soviet spacecraft on August 19th, 1960. As former strays, the two female dogs were chosen for their ability to urinate without lifting their legs (so the satellite design could be more compact), as well as the supposed resilience and ruggedness they’d obtained from life on the streets. The dogs had to be the perfect size (not-too-big, not-too-small), temperament (friendly, obedient), and color (to show up on film), in addition to being able to withstand extensive training, which prompted one of the dog catchers to wonder if they also needed “to howl in C major.” Belka and Strelka fit the bill. After much testing, they were deemed ready for space. They spent about 25 hours in orbit, where they were accompanied by two rats, 40 mice, a rabbit, fruit flies and plants. Belka and Strelka, with their red and green sweaters, became instant heroes of the space race — the first mammals to ever survive orbit. After those 17 disorienting trips around Earth, the former strays spent the rest of their days, as one writer puts it, “sausage-filled” (Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian).