By Debra Bell
of The Weekly Staff
What does it take to send a dog into space? This was the question that children participating in the April vacation camp at Challenger Learning Center tackled on Thursday, April 18.
And they did it with the help of three visitors: Brewer resident Rebecca Henderson, her yellow Labrador retriever Atticus, and her papillon Finch.
After all, sending a dog into space isn’t a simple proposition. And the kids quickly learned why once they “blasted” into space in the CLC’s simulator.
Once the ship docked with the space station, children filed into the space station followed by the dogs and Henderson. That’s when the kids were asked to determine which dog would make the better spacepooch.
Would there be more space for Atticus or Finch? Where would they sleep? Where would their food be stored? How would they eat it? Would short hair or longer hair be good in space? How would they feel in space? All these questions were posed to the kids to get them thinking about what astronauts and space missions consider when sending animals into space.
All morning long, camp director Jennifer Therrien put the children through some thought exercises as they learned about the types of animals that had become astronauts. The first creatures to experience space were fruit flies which were launched from a U.S.-launched V-2 rocket, Feb. 20, 1947. In the 1940s and 50s, monkeys were launched into space, followed by mice, and in 1951 the Soviet Union launched the first dogs — Tsygan and Dezik — into space, but not into orbit. Six years later Laika was the first dog to enter orbit aboard the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 (also known as “Muttnik”). Laika died during her space service. About 10 other dogs were launched into orbit before April 12, 1961, when Soviet Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.
On Aug. 19, 1960, Sputnik 5 carried Eskimo dogs Belka and Strelka into orbit. These dogs were the first ones to return alive and entered space with 40 mice, two rats, a rabbit, fruit flies and some plants. Of the animals to make the trip into orbit, only 28 mice died.
Looking at the space station’s design and set up allowed the children to think about how dogs would have their basic needs met and what the dog would feel if they were in space.
Back on the ground at home base, the children did a final wrap up of which dog might be better suited for space travel. For Atticus, the yellow lab, the children felt he would make a good space traveler due to his shorter coat and calm demeanor despite being nervous on take off. Likewise, the children felt that Finch the papillon would be a good space traveler due to his compact size, his need for less food and water, and his easy-going demeanor. However, the children did note that his longer coat might be a problem.