Laika was a soviet space dog who became famous as the first animal to orbit earth, her story is quite emotional and heart-breaking, Laika was a stray mongrel dog who used to have her normal life in the streets of Moscow, back then, a very challenging space race between the two cold war rivals (the Soviet Union and the United States) was taking place.
A race that was meant to be won by both sides as it was related to national security, leadership and global dominance in spaceflight capability.
According to different sources, the official decision of the launch was made only about four weeks before.
The Space Race
The Soviet Union having already sent a first satellite (Sputnik 1) before in October 4, 1957, they decided on sending a second (Sputnik 2) with a living being on board this time.
But as technology achievements were not quite as of today, and space knowledge being limited, sending humans into space was dangerous and life threatening. So that is when it was decided to send a dog in a test mission.
The Election of Laika
Soviet scientists chose then to use Moscow city stray dogs as those were assumed to already had learned to live in extreme cold weather and hunger conditions.
A bunch of dogs were thus gathered in a training facility for test and selection. Laika was one of them, and as she was so calm, beautiful and wouldn’t fight with other dogs (as some magazines described her), she soon was picked for the perfect dog cosmonaut.
Vladimir Yazdovsky, the medical scientist who led the dog testing program described her in a later publication as saying ; “Laika was quiet and charming”.
According to different sources, the official decision of the launch was made only about four weeks before the due date, leaving the engineers very short time to equip the craft. The little ship was designed entirely for innocent Laika which weights about 6 kilograms, her cabin was equipped with:
- An oxygen generator.
- A Carbon dioxide absorber.
- A cooling fan to control heat.
- Equipments to monitor the dog’s heart rate, respiration rate, arterial pressure…
- Food and water for a seven day flight.
- A bag to collect waste.
The cabin was so small, and a harness was produced to fit Laika size, there were also small chains restricting her movements to sitting, lying down or standing.
The place could barely contain her body, and the dog couldn’t turn around. For that, Laika underwent some training experiences were she would stay in a small place (cage), be placed in a centrifuge that simulated rocket acceleration, or in machine for spacecraft noise simulation … so she could get ready for her trip. Her training took about 20 days.
Hours Before Launch
Before the launch, one of the fellow scientists team took Laika to his home where she rested an played with his children for a couple of days. “I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live” the scientist says.
On 3 November 1957, everything was set for the trip in Baikonur Kazakhstan were the launch took place.
As the rocket was accelerating, the dog’s respiration doubled 3 to 4 times, the sensors showed also that little Laika’s heart beating increased at some point until 240 beats/min and that she was experiencing an enormous stress.
Laika Reaches Orbit
The rocket reached the orbit successfully, but at the separation phase, the different ship parts did not detach correctly due to technical errors. It was then when the dog’s cabin started to over heat, sensors stopped transmitting, and the poor Laika eventually lost her life after 5 hours of stress and pain in a suicide mission she never signed up for.
Due to the overshadowing issue of space superiority between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union, the ethical side of this space experiment had only arisen later on, especially that those experiments continued over history, and in many of them, like for Laika’s case, the sent animal’s life couldn’t be saved.
Later on 2008, in recognition of the little dog’s sacrifice and her contribution to space exploration progress, Laika was memorialized in a monument in her honor that portrayed her standing on a space rocket near a facility in Tsar City, Russia where her flight was prepared.
Read more details in Wikipedia