Sixty years after the United States and the USSR faced off in the early days of the space race, it’s not hard to find people who know about the dogs who were the first Soviet cosmonauts. Americans and younger Russians may not know the name of Laika, the first dog to become a space hero, but the idea of dogs in space has a strong pop cultural resonance all these decades later. Just this summer, the blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy gave a tip of the hat to the canine cosmonauts by including one as part of Benicio Del Toro’s collection of strange and unique items from throughout the galaxy.
But a few decades ago, Laika and the dogs that followed her were genuine heroes in Soviet culture, with a lot more exposure than a few seconds on screen. A new book called Soviet Space Dogs puts that history on display. Even if it’s a little kitschy, it’s beautiful stuff. For a while, Laika and her fellow cosmonauts were being put on anything that had a surface: Matchboxes, postcards, porcelain figurines, postage stamps, and badges bore the images of the heroic pooches who first explored space in the name of the USSR.