Soviet space capsule stands ready for launch in the lobby of Sotheby's New York headquarters. ARTKABINETT art collector social network thinks that this exhibition is truly "out of this world." The Vostok 3KA-2, a giant rusty ball, orbited the Earth on March 25, 1961. It carried a life-size cosmonaut mannequin and a live dog, and landed two hours after launch in a snow-blanketed field about 700 miles from Moscow.
Three weeks later, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin climbed into an identical vehicle and became the first human to travel into outer space. The test capsule could fetch as much as $10 million when auctioned on April 12, the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's voyage.
"It has great historical and technological significance," said Cathleen Lewis, curator of international space programs at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. "It was the basis for their go or no-go decision for Gagarin's flight."
Scorched and scratched on the outside, the ball looks cramped on the inside. Most of the interior is taken up by an ejection seat.
"It had tiny portholes so Gagarin would not be able to see much," said David Redden, vice chairman of Sothebyís and head of its special-projects department. "There was very little he could control. He had to hope that everything was going to work."
The architect of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev (pictured here), tested five Vostok capsules before sending Gagarin.
The four-legged cosmonaut traveling on 3KA-2 was named Zvezdochka and fared better than some of her canine predecessors just by surviving. The documentary footage played at Sothebyís shows the dog looking alert, if slightly out of breath, when removed from the capsule.
Her dummy companion, nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich, wore the same spacesuit Gagarin would wear, and was ejected from the capsule before landing, hitting the ground with a parachute.
The National Air and Space Museum has displayed Ivan Ivanovich as part of its "Space Race" exhibition since 1997. The item is on loan from the Ross Perot foundation, which purchased it at Sotheby's in 1993, according to Lewis. It fetched $189,500.
Sotheby's previously offered the test capsule in 1996, with an estimate of $800,000 to $1 million. It did not sell and was later acquired privately by an anonymous U.S. businessman directly from the Russians, Redden said.
"We would love to have it," said Lewis. ìUnfortunately we donít have an acquisition fund to purchase something on this scale.
During the 1950s and 1960s the USSR used a number of dogs for sub-orbital and orbital space flights to determine whether human spaceflight was feasible.
In this period, the Soviet Union launched missions with passenger slots for at least 57 dogs. The actual number of dogs in space is smaller, as some dogs flew more than once. Most survived; the few that died were lost mostly through technical failures, according to the parameters of the test.
Dogs were the preferred animal for the experiments because scientists felt dogs were well suited to endure long periods of inactivity.
As part of their training, they were confined in small boxes for 15-20 days at a time.
Stray dogs, rather than animals accustomed to living in a house, were chosen because the scientists felt they would be able to tolerate the rigours and extreme stresses of space flight better than other dogs.
Female dogs were used because of their temperament and because the suit for the dogs in order to collect urine and feces was equipped with a special device, designed to work only with females.
Their training included standing still for long periods of time, wearing space suits, being placed in simulators that acted like a rocket during launch, riding in centrifuges that simulated the high acceleration of a rocket launch and being kept in progressively smaller cages to prepare them for the confines of the space module.
Dogs that flew in orbit were fed a nutritious jelly-like protein. This was highly fibrous, and assisted the dogs to excrete during long periods of time while in their small space module.
More than 60% of dogs to enter space were reportedly suffering from constipation and gallstones on arrival back to base.