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The Dog Who Proved Humans Can Survive In Space

At A Glance

Laika was the first living creature to orbit the Earth. Before it was spun into the cosmos in a Russian space mission on November 3, 1957, Laika was a stray dog roaming the streets of Moscow. It died in space but its place in history lives on.

  • After the successful launch of the Sputnik 1 aircraft, the Soviet Union’s goal was to get ahead of the US in the space race.
  • Sputnik 2 was launched way ahead of schedule to coincide with the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. It wasn’t equipped to return its lone occupant safely back to Earth.

Dog cosmonaut Laika’s space odyssey is a story of triumph and tragedy.

The iconic dog remains a part of popular culture around the world half a century after it made history as the first living creature to orbit the Earth.

It was a landmark moment, albeit laced with lamentable circumstances.

laika, the space dog Image : Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc

How Was Laika Sent To Space?

Laika was chosen to board the Russian spacecraft Sputnik 2 for its docile nature, charm, and relatively small size.

The mission was intended to test the safety of space travel for humans, and to determine if it’s possible to survive in that environment.

Laika’s training included being placed in a small cage to get used to Sputnik 2’s size and structure. It was also spun in a centrifuge so it could acclimatize to changes in space gravity.

Additionally, the dog cosmonaut was fed food in gelatin form which suited the habitat of weightlessness in space.

Other dogs—Albina and Mushka—were trained for the mission as backup options.

 

Inside Sputnik 2 – Laika Dog-Strapped In A Spacecraft

Barely a month after the successful launch of the unmanned artificial satellite Sputnik 1, the Soviet Union was bent on getting ahead of the United States in the space race. They aimed to do this by launching Sputnik 2, this time with a dog on board.

Laika in space was a celebrated moment, not only in the USSR but all over the world. People called the mission “Pupnik” or “Muttnik”.

Sputnik 2 was a cone-shaped capsule that measured 4 meters high and 2 meters wide at its base. It was equipped with a telemetry, transmitters, a programming unit, control systems, and other instruments.

A pressurized cabin housed Laika where there were provisions for regenerated oxygen, food, and water. The dog was held by a harness, strapped with a bag for waste collection and vital signs sensors for monitoring.

There was no survival or recovery capacity in the whole system.

Laika was expected to last ten days in orbit, which was the length of time before the craft ran out of oxygen.

Unfortunately, things took a worse turn.

What Happened To Laika?

After the launch, Soviet Union officials told the public that it was a one-way flight to space. The doomed dog wasn’t expected to return to Earth alive because the technology back then did not make it possible.

Criticism and outrage met the announcement.

Thereafter, they released statements that the dog was able to live for a week in orbit and experienced a painless, humane death through euthanasia.

However, in October 2002, a revelation came out that Laika died a wretched death.

Apparently, the Soviets’ public statements during the mission watered down and whitewashed the truth about
Laika’s ordeal in that experimental spacecraft.

The truth is, Laika space dog cum sacrificial lamb died of panic, overheating, and suffocation. It passed on just 5 to 7 hours into orbit.

How Did Laika Die?

Dr. Dimitri Malashenkov of the Institute for Biological Problems in Moscow revealed the information at the World Space Congress in Houston, Texas. He was one of the scientists behind the Sputnik 2 mission.

His expose included details about how Laika suffered before succumbing to death. The dog’s fitted medical sensors indicated that its pulse rate tripled compared to its resting state rate.

Laika’s pulse slowed down once it entered a state of weightlessness. However, it took three times longer to return to pre-launch rate compared to its post-centrifuge ride training.

Telemetry readings also showed the surge in humidity and temperature that subjected the dog to suffocation and overheating of up to 40 degrees Celsius.

Severe stress and extreme conditions caused Laika’s death.

The space dog was confused, afraid, and alone. By the fourth circuit of flight, the vital signs monitors no longer detected any lifesigns.

It was a horrible and sad tale of using an animal to gather data. Laika’s story aroused sympathy and concern from the public.

a cute brown husky dog

Race. Regret. Remembrance

Sputnik 2 circled the Earth a total of 2,570 times. It re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere after 162 days in orbit and burned up there on April 4, 1958.

“Many people reportedly saw a fiery trail of Sputnik 2 as it flew over New York and reached the Amazon region in just 10 minutes during its re-entry”, reported Anatoly Zak of RussianSpaceWeb.com.

Soon after the tragedy, many expressed regret and anger. And in 2002, when more details of the dog’s death were known, Oleg Gazenko articulated his remorse for allowing it to die helplessly.

Gazenko was one of the scientists responsible for sending Laika into space. He laments:

“Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it … We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.”

Facts About Laika

Laika remains a curious case as many people search online about Laika dog breed, death, story, and other information.

Here’s the profile of the famous space dog whose story continues to move people out of apathy for animal welfare:

Weight: 13 lbs

Breed: husky-spitz mix breed

Age at time of death: 2 years old

Days of training: 9 days of preparation before the launch

Days before the flight: Laika got to play with mission scientist Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky’s children in his home

From Street To Space: A Tragic Journey

During the time of Sputnik 2, the Soviets used stray dogs to train for space travel. They believed that being homeless prepared those canines for the harsh conditions awaiting them.

The Laika-boarded mission provided information about solar and cosmic radiation. More importantly, it paved the way for humans to confidently venture uncharted cosmic territory.

But it took Laika’s life to help advance the field of space exploration so that other animal and human cosmonauts would live.

We honor Laika and learn hard lessons from its story.

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Paul Andrews
https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-andrews-172490189/

A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.