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Object of Intrigue: Soviet Space Dog Jug

(Photo: El Pantera/Wikipedia)

The best way to drink vodka is not from an ice luge or in a martini that’s shaken, not stirred. It is from a rocket full of Soviet space dogs.

Vintage porcelain jugs bearing the three-dimensional likenesses of Belka and Strelka, pioneering canine cosmonauts, have been popping up on eBay. They commemorate the flight of Korabl-Sputnik 2, which launched the dogs into space on August 19, 1960. 

Belka and Strelka were not the first Soviet dogs to board a rocket. But they were the first to make it back to Earth alive. In November 1957, a dog named Laika was blasted into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. Unfortunately, she died from overheating within the first seven hours of the five-month mission—a detail that was not made public until 2002.

By contrast, Belka and Strelka returned to Earth alive and well following their one-day mission to space and back, during which time they were accompanied by a veritable Noah’s Ark of creatures: one rabbit, 42 mice, a pair of rats, and a bunch of fruit flies. Their survival was cause for celebration, Soviet pride, and a whole lot of commemorative tchotchkes, ranging from candy tins to plates to porcelain figurines.

The rocket-shaped Belka-and-Strelka vodka jugs pictured were sculpted in the wake of their flight in the Russian village of Gzhel, a town outside Moscow that has been known for its folk ceramics since the early 19th century. Should you wish to have your very own, they sell for between $100 and $279.95 on eBay.

The real Belka and Strelka, preserved via taxidermy, reside at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow.