Man wouldn’t be in space if it wasn’t for one little dog, a dog called Laika. It was thanks to this little dog that mankind made a huge leap in space technology. So how did it happen ! And how did one little pup literally changed the course of space exploration !
Before man went into space, scientist talked a lot about the dangers of such a flight, one theory was that human organisms can simply not withstand long periods of weightlessness, overloads and other things. For several years, the scientific community had been arguing on the topic, American and Soviet scientists were experimenting, sending to space a variety of living things from flies to monkeys. But it was Laika’s heroic deed that people remembered most of all, why ? Because It was the only one who was deliberately sent to death as no way of her recovery was planned.
Laika was a soviet space dog who became famous as the first animal to orbit earth, she used to have her normal life in the city 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.
The three years old Laika was among a group of other dogs gathered in a training facility for test and selection in Star City, and as she was so calm, beautiful and wouldn’t fight with other dogs — like some magazines described her — she soon was picked as the perfect dog cosmonaut. The aim of sending her to orbit was to learn how living organisms would react to an outer space environment and how long could she last there . With a rapid breath and a pounding heart, Laika rode a rocket called Sputnik 2 into earth orbit on November 3rd 1957, frightened, overheated and cramped. She involuntarily gave her life for soviet union space program. Her story is quite emotional and heartbreaking.
These are some sad tragic facts about Laika and her journey:
She had no home : Laika was found on the streets of Moscow, a stray that like any other dog just wanted a warm home, a steady supply of food and perhaps some love. Unfortunately strays were sought out by soviet union for their space program as dogs were easy to train and therefore easier to prepare for space missions. The reasoning behind this was that stray mutts had already endured a hard life of little to no food, poor environmental conditions and physical ailments, and as such, this would make them tough enough to handle what space could throw at them. Interestingly enough, Laika was not the first dog to head up into orbit as the soviets did send Albina who made halfway up into orbit and back safely, if Laika didn’t pass training, Albina would have replaced her. Another dog, Mushka, was used to test the life support system that would be given to Laika during her trip but unfortunately, the space program was too hard for her and she eventually became so terrified that she refused to eat. All of these dogs were strays and had no home but the empty freezing streets.
Laika was destined to die and they knew it : The sputnik 2 was not built to withstand coming back down into earth’s atmosphere and therefore could not technically land safely. The scientists within the soviet space program knew that Laika would not be making the trip home and was expected to spend only few days alive up in space, she was supposed to die quietly after eating a portion of poisoned food as no one knew how to bring her back to earth, this sparked outrage amongst international press and campaigns cropped up in an attempt to stop the mission from going forward as the mission was deemed as animal cruelty. The soviets did not understand why everyone was so outraged as they were sending her up into space for the sake of humanity, and they even reiterated that soviets loved dogs. While Albina was the first choice for the mission, she was kept back as she had already done her job and Laika was sent instead because they knew she was going to die.
They rushed the mission : the original plan had Laika coming home and the officials even told press outlets that she would be comfortable, would have everything she needed to survive and would return home safely, but sadly the original plan was changed as Nikita Khrushchev wanted the satellite launch to be used in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Bolshevik revolution. To put it bluntly, the entire Sputnik 2 launch was used as a propaganda piece, and in order for the satellite to be ready in time, it was to be rushed. So, the original plan was scrapped and scientists had to come up with a space craft capable of sending Laika into orbit within four weeks which meant that all traditional designs of rocked technology were thrown out and with it, Laika’s safe return home.
Laika experienced cramped training in small spaces : Sputnik 2 was a tiny satellite no bigger than a washing machine, this meant that Laika would not be able to turn around and would only be able to sit and lie down facing one direction. Her cabin was mainly equipped with:
- An oxygen generator.
- A Carbon dioxide absorber.
- A cooling fan to control heat.
- Equipment to monitor the dog’s heart rate, respiration rate, arterial pressure…
- Food and water for a seven day flight.
- A bag to collect waste.
To get Laika ready for the tight space ship that was Sputnik 2, she was transitioned through a series of smaller and smaller cages, she would be left for days at a time in a small cage then pulled out and immediately placed into an even smaller one. Laika also underwent some training experiences were she would be placed in a centrifuge that simulated rocket acceleration, or in a machine for spacecraft noise simulation … so she could get ready for her trip. A side effect of this was that the dogs who were being trained in this way would refuse to defecate and would then become constipated which required the use of laxatives, eventually, the dogs would adapt but only because they were forced to stay in these cages until they knew nothing else.
Laika had one good day with a scientist’s family : Dr Vladimir Yazdovsky had been working extremely closely with Laika during the last four weeks on the training leading up to the satellite launch. He was also the one who plucked her off the streets, trained her, and chose here to go up into space. Dr Yazdovsky wanted to do something nice for Laika on the day before her journey, so he brought her back to his home and let her experience what life would have been like as a domesticated dog. His family played with her, fed her and loved her. On the launch day, Dr Yazdovsky’s family even came to the launch site and said their goodbyes to the little dog knowing that she would not be coming back home.
The space dog had a terrifying experience on launch site: On launch day, Laika was placed in the rocket that would send her up into space, but an incident occurred, a malfunction that needed to be repaired, this repair took about three days to fix which kept the little dog grounded in the spacecraft in freezing cold temperatures, she was unable to move, turn around or exercise at all as she was chained in place. When the little dog Laika was eventually blasted off into space, she was panicked and became terrified. Her heart rate spiked racing at three to four times the normal rate and she appeared confused and stricken with fear, while her heart rate did eventually calm down when she became weightless, it would still not return to her normal resting rate.
Her death was brutally painful : The soviets claimed that Laika survived several days in earth’s orbit, only dying when she ate the poisoned dog food that had been prepared for her. However, in 2002, the actual truth of her death came out when Dimitri Malashenkov — one of the scientists involved in the Sputnik 2 program — revealed what her fate was. According to him, Laika died in extreme pain within the first seven hours of orbit during her fourth circuit of the earth. This was due to the temperature control system malfunctioning causing the shuttle to heat up past 40 degrees Celsius or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the extreme heat caused her to panic and her heart beat to rise rapidly.
The little dog’s body disintegrated : The Sputnik 2 spent five months in orbit only to fall down into earth’s atmosphere on April 14th 1958. When it entered the earth’s aerial space, it streaked across the sky at an incredible speed, turning red and detaching itself along the way. As the capsule was torn to pieces, Laika and her spacecraft coffin disintegrated as it rushed towards earth’s ground. Laika’s body was never recovered.
Mushka died an explosive death : After Laika’s death, Muskha, the dog that was used to test the life support system for Sputnik 2, along with another dog called Pchyolka, were sent up into space with a few other animals, these included guinea pigs, plants, mice and rats with a mission to study the effects of radiation. When the rocket was to come home, the system used to slow the spacecraft malfunctioned, causing it to fall off trajectory. The soviets had no way of knowing where the rocket would land, and as they feared that it would fall in American hands, they used the explosives on board and detonated the ship causing the killing of Muskha, Pchyolka, an all other animals on board.
The mission didn’t provide enough valuable information: Oleg Gazenko, one of the scientists who was involved in this space program stated that he was so sorry about it that they should not have gone with the mission, and that they did not learn enough valuable information from the space flight to justify the dog’s death, this claim was also made by several media reports.
While Laika did prove to the world that a living thing could be sent into space and survive the trip, the entire endeavor serves more as a symbolic gesture than as scientific one. In the end, the soviets just wanted to be the first to have an animal to orbit the earth and it ended up being a tragic tale. Four years after Laika’s journey into the stars, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space who would come home safely.
Due to the overshadowing issue of space superiority between the U.S.A and the Soviet Union, the ethical side of these dogs and other animals’ space flight experiments had only arisen later on, especially that those missions continued over history, and in many of them, like for Laika’s case, the sent pet’s life couldn’t be saved.
Later in 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 Star City, Russia where her flight was prepared.
Laika also appears on top of a rocket in the ‘Monument to the conquerors of space’ built back in 1964 and many other monuments.
Stamps picturing Laika, cigarettes, matches as well as many other products were branded Laika across the soviet republics and the world.
The dog’s story has spread throughout the world and still lives today through children books, poems, YouTube videos, songs, movies … that mark a dog’s ‘sacrifice’ made more than 60 years ago.
Read more details in Wikipedia