Russia is marking the 50th anniversary of the space flight of two mongrel dogs — Belka and Strelka — who became the first living creatures to circle the Earth and come back alive.
The August 1960 mission helped test the equipment which was used to carry the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961.
Belka and Strelka were part of a Soviet program of animal tests intended to pave the way for human space flight. They followed Laika, a dog that flew into space on Nov. 3, 1957 but wasn't meant to survive and died.
The successful flight of Belka and Strelka had showcased the Soviet lead in space exploration and turned the dogs into global celebrities. Russian television stations topped their newscasts Thursday with anniversary reports.