With a throbbing heart and rapid breathing, Laika drove a rocket into Earth's orbit, 2,000 miles above the streets of Moscow that she knew. Overheated, tight, scared and probably hungry, the space dog gave his life for his country, involuntarily fulfilling a canine suicide mission.
Sad as this tale is, the husky-spitz mix became part of history as the first living creature to orbit the Earth. For decades, the little pioneer has found a new life in popular culture long after her death and the fierce death of her Soviet ship, Sputnik 2 that crashed into Earth's atmosphere 60 years ago. month. 19659003] Soviet engineers planned Sputnik 2 hastily after Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev requested a flight that coincided with November 7, 1957, the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Using what they had learned from Sputnik 1 unmanned and not besieged and often working without plans, the teams worked quickly to build a ship that included a pressurized compartment for a flying dog. Sputnik 1 had made history, becoming the first man-made object in Earth orbit on October 4, 1957. Sputnik 2 would enter orbit with the final stage of the connected rocket, and engineers believed that the payload of 1,120 pounds of the ship, six times heavier than Sputnik 1 could be kept within limits by feeding its passenger only once.
They expected Laika to die from lack of oxygen: a painless death inside 15 seconds, after seven days in space. Cathleen Lewis, curator of international space programs and spacesuits at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum doubts that a few ounces of food would have made a difference, and recalls reports that a doctor broke the protocol by feeding Laika before takeoff.  On November 3, 1957, Sputnik 2, with the dog Laika on board, took off with g forces that reached five normal gravity levels. “/>
Soviet canine recruiters began their search with a pack of stray dogs because the females were smaller and apparently more docile. The initial tests determined obedience and passivity. Finally, the canine finalists lived in small capsules pressurized for days and then weeks at a time. The doctors also verified their reactions to the changes in air pressure and the loud noises that would accompany the takeoff. The testers placed candidates a sanitary device connected to the pelvic area. The dogs did not like the devices, and to prevent their use, some retained body waste, even after consuming laxatives. However, some adapted.
Eventually, the team chose the placid Kudryavka (Little Curly) as the dog cosmonaut Sputnik 2 and Albina (White) as backup. Introduced to the public by radio, Kudryavka barked and later became known as Laika, "barker" in Russian. Rumors surfaced that Albina had overtaken Laika, but because she had recently given birth to puppies and apparently had gained the affection of her keepers, Albina did not suffer a fatal flight. The doctors performed surgery on both dogs, incorporating medical devices into their bodies to control heart impulses, respiration rates, blood pressure and physical movement.
The Soviet doctors chose Laika to die, but they were not completely heartless. One of his caregivers, Vladimir Yazdovsky, took 3-year-old Laika to his home shortly before the flight because "he wanted to do something good for the dog," he recalled later.
Three days before scheduled takeoff, Laika entered her restricted travel space that allowed only a few inches of movement. Recently cleaned, armed with sensors and equipped with a sanitary device, she wore a space suit with built-in metal reinforcements. On November 3 at 5:30 am, the ship took off with G forces reaching levels of gravity five times higher.
The sounds and pressures of the flight terrified Laika: her heart beat tripled, and her respiratory rate quadrupled. The National Air and Space Museum has declassified impressions that show Laika's breathing during the flight. She reached orbit alive, circling the Earth in approximately 103 minutes. Unfortunately, the loss of the heat shield caused the temperature in the capsule to increase unexpectedly, making a dent in Laika. He died "shortly after the launch", revealed in 1993 the doctor and trainer of space dogs Oleg Gazenko. "The temperature inside the spacecraft after the fourth orbit registered more than 90 degrees," says Lewis. "There really is no expectation that it has reached beyond one orbit or two after that." Without his passenger, Sputnik 2 continued orbiting for five months.
During and after the flight, the Soviet Union maintained the fiction that Laika survived for several days. "The official documents were falsified," says Lewis. The Soviet transmissions claimed that Laika was alive until November 12. The New York Times even reported that it could be saved; however, the Soviet communiqués made it clear after nine days that Laika had died.
While concerns about animal rights had not reached the first 21 st century levels, some protested the deliberate decision to let Laika die because the Soviet Union lacked the technology to return it safely to Earth. In Britain, where opposition to hunting was growing, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the British Society for Happy Dogs opposed the launch. A group of dog lovers joined protest posters to their pets and marched in front of the United Nations in New York. "The more time passes, the more I feel it," Gazenko said more than 30 years later.
The humanitarian use of space flights for animals was essential for the preparation of manned space flight, believes Lewis. "There were things that we could not determine because of the limits of human experience in high-altitude flights," says Lewis. The scientists "really did not know how disorienting space flight would be for humans or whether an astronaut or cosmonaut could continue to operate rationally."
Unfortunately, for Laika, even if everything had worked perfectly, and if she had been lucky enough to have enough food, water and oxygen, she would have died when the spacecraft reentered the atmosphere after 2,570 orbits. Ironically, a flight that promised Laika's certain death also offered evidence that space was habitable.
Laika's story lives today on websites, YouTube videos, poems and children's books, at least one of which provides a happy ending for the doomed dog. The cultural impact of Laika has spread through the years since his death. The Art Museum of Portland, Oregon is launching an animated exhibition of Laika this May, and there is also a "vegan lifestyle and animal rights magazine" called LAIKA Magazine published in the United States. United.
The 1985 Swedish film, My life as a dog portrayed a young man's fears that Laika had died of hunger. Several folk and rock singers from around the world dedicated songs to him. An English indie-pop group took its name, and a Finnish band was called Laika and the Cosmonauts. Novelists Victor Pelevin of Russia, Haruki Murakami of Japan and Jeannette Winterson of Great Britain presented Laika in books, as did British graphic novelist Nick Abadzis.
In 2015, Russia unveiled a new commemorative statue of Laika on a rocket at a military research center in Moscow, and when the nation honored the cosmonauts killed in 1997 with a statue at the Institute of Biomedical problems in Star City, Moscow, the image of Laika could be seen in a corner. During the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity mission in March 2005, NASA unofficially named a point inside a Martian crater "Laika".
Space dog biographer Amy Nelson compares Laika to other animal celebrities such as the Barnum and Bailey Circus Jumbo of the late nineteenth century and thoroughbred racehorse champion Seabiscuit, who raised American spirits during the Great Depression. She argues in Beastly Natures: Animals, Humans and the Study of History that the Soviet Union transformed Laika into "a lasting symbol of human sacrifice and achievement".
Shortly after the flight, the Soviet mint was created an enamel pin to celebrate "The first passenger in space". Soviet allies, such as Romania, Albania, Poland and North Korea, issued Laika seals throughout the years between 1957 and 1987.
Laika was not the first space dog: some had fired at the rocket tests sub -orbitals of the Soviet military V-2 rocket German updated after the Second World War, and had returned to Earth through parachute boats, alive or dead. She would not be the last dog to take flight either. Others returned from orbit alive. After the successful joint 1960 flight of Strelka and Belka, Strelka later produced puppies, and Khrushchev gave one to President John F. Kennedy.
During the days leading up to the manned flight, the United States looked mainly at the members of the ape family as evidence subjects. The reason for the Soviet election of dogs on apes is unclear, except perhaps that the pioneering work of Ivan Pavlov in dog physiology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has provided a solid foundation for the use of canines, says Lewis. In addition, stray dogs were plentiful on the streets of the Soviet Union, easy to find and unlikely to be missed.
According to Animals In Space by Colin Burgess and Chris Dubbs, the Soviet Union launched dogs to flight 71 times between 1951 and 1966, with 17 deaths. The Russian space program continues to use animals in space tests, but in all cases except Laika, there has been some hope that the animal will survive.